December 26, 2014

Dr. G’s #AGU14 Spotlight – Students Mentoring Students

Posted by Laura Guertin

The AGU Fall Meeting is a time when geoscience professionals share the “latest and greatest” updates and results of our research, a time for dissemination and professional development.  It is a time when we also prepare our undergraduate student researchers to share their research results, some of them at their first professional conference.  In addition to the pre-conference preparation and on-site coaching for students, there is some mentoring that can be just as effective (perhaps, even more effective than what I can provide) by other students.  Although AGU does not have a formal peer mentoring program for students at the Fall Meeting, I would like to share an example of a really special relationship that I saw develop between two students during the 2014 conference.

Meet Kimmie Bowen! Kimmie's summer research project is featured in the 2015 AGU Calendar (look for her in March!)

Meet Kimmie Bowen! Kimmie’s summer research project is featured in the 2015 AGU Calendar (look for her in March!)

Meet Kimmie Bowen.  Kimmie is a sophomore at my campus, Penn State Brandywine.  She is majoring in the College of Earth & Mineral Sciences and will be transferring to the Penn State University Park campus next year to continue with her degree.  At the conclusion of her freshman year, she responded to my call for a summer undergraduate researcher interested in starting a citizen science project on campus.  Kimmie commuted to campus via the bus every week this summer to meet with me and to move the project forward, and she expressed an interest in continuing with the project during the fall semester.  I was so impressed with her work ethic and enthusiasm for not only the project but for her overall passion for learning.  I saw that the AGU Fall Meeting was going to have a session devoted to citizen science, and I asked her if she was interested in attending and presenting.  I offered her this opportunity because, being the only geologist at my campus, I struggle offering students a strong sense of community or a clear identity as an Earth scientist, having no dedicated teaching or research space, no discipline-specific seminar speakers, etc.  I knew AGU would be an excellent opportunity for Kimmie to see the wide range of research and opportunities available to her in her future – but I also was cautious about the AGU meeting being too large and swallowing up this sophomore just beginning her science exploration.  Since I was helping with sessions on undergraduate research and the Bloggers Forum and had my own connections and obligations at the conference, how could I be sure Kimmie would be OK, that this conference would be an effective learning and professional experience for her?

That's me (left) with former student Abbey Dufoe (right)

That’s me (left) with former student Abbey Dufoe (right)

Meet Abbey Dufoe.  Abbey is a former student of mine, having started her first two years of college at Penn State Brandywine and finishing her undergraduate degree at Penn State University Park in Media Studies.  Abbey had taken two Earth science courses with me, completed a couple of independent study projects focusing on Google Earth and creating iBooks for Earth science education, and I guided her through completing the Environmental Inquiry minor before she graduated.  I also took Abbey to her first AGU conference, and she hasn’t missed one since.  Abbey is currently a graduate student in the Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism program at University of Montana.  As she had began her student career just like Kimmie at the Brandywine campus, I asked Abbey if she wouldn’t mind spending some time with Kimmie at AGU, not only helping her navigate the conference but also talking to her about transitioning from my campus to University Park.  Abbey was so enthusiastic about the idea, that the two even shared a room together to save on costs.  The two met for the first time in San Francisco (Kimmie’s first time on the west coast (and first time on an airplane!)), and the chemistry between these two was magical to watch.  From learning how to read the session codes and program guide to practicing her poster over and over again, Abbey was right there for Kimmie every step of the way (including the best suggestions for lunch spots and where to find Ghirardelli ice cream!).  Before the end of the week, you would never have known these two met just days before.

The communications and relationship between Kimmie and Abbey I know will continue well beyond the conference.  Abbey will be an excellent friend and mentor to Kimmie has she transfers between campuses and seeks to continue with future undergraduate research projects.  And who knows – they may both meet up again at AGU next year!

I would like to end this post with a challenge – a challenge to all mentors of undergraduate researchers to think about having experienced conference attendees (another undergraduate student that has previously been to AGU, or a former student/now graduate student from your own institution) be another “point person” for our rookie student attendees.  We (faculty) typically allow this to happen organically between and among students, but it is those little actions, like connecting students to attend the Student Breakfast together, or to discuss what happens during OSPA judging, can make for an effective, exciting, and rewarding conference experience for both students.


Kimmie (left) and Abbey (right) at Kimmie’s poster in the Friday afternoon session on citizen science

Learn about Kimmie’s work by viewing her poster in Penn State’s ScholarSphere, titled Using the Citizen Science Picture Post Project as the Foundation for Campus Environmental Monitoring by Undergraduate Student Researchers, and visiting the Penn State Brandywine Picture Post website.

Learn more about Abbey’s work by viewing her ePoster, titled Getting the Public Excited about Science through News Stories about Global Sporting Events, and visiting her Environmental Explorations blog.