2008 Joint Meeting of The Geological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies with the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-6:00 PM

Acid Mine Drainage Research as a Tool for Teaching Geochemistry and Hydrogeology

POPE, Jeanette K., Geosciences, DePauw University, 213 Julian, 602 College Ave, Greencastle, IN 46135, jpope@depauw.edu

Undergraduate science students at DePauw University have been involved in an ongoing research project investigating the physical and chemical processes of acid mine drainage from an abandoned coal mine near Terra Haute, Indiana. These projects have proceeded through internally funded summer internships, class projects, and an independent research classes completed during the academic year. Although most students that have worked on this project major in the geosciences, students majoring in biology and chemistry have also been involved. Some students have, at best, a rudimentary understanding of hydrological and geochemical processes prior to starting the project. Many, however, have virtually no knowledge in these areas. Through the research process, which includes reading and discussing the relevant literature, students learn (and more importantly retain) knowledge of geochemistry and hydrogeology because it is necessary for understanding their research project.

Conducting research as an undergraduate helps prepare students for a career in science. Of the students that have worked on the acid mine drainage project, all have gone on to funded graduate positions or successful jobs in NGO or consulting industries. This success is due to 1) an enhanced understanding of the material, 2) increased critical thinking abilities developed by investigating open-ended questions, and 3) experience communicating the outcomes of the research at local or national forums (like, for example, GSA). The importance of the research experience for increased understanding of geochemistry and hydrogeology has been specifically documented in exit interviews and unsolicited reports from the student researchers. Additionally, the academic performance of these students in other content areas (structural geology, sedimentology) has been favorably noted by other instructors in the department. Although supervising research students can be highly time consuming for the instructor/research mentor, it is also rewarding because it is a very effective teaching method.