Gladiators Rule! The 2020 Spring W&M Geology Departmental Field Trip

The Geology department rolled out of Williamsburg last weekend and headed straight to Virginia’s geographic centroid for a wide-ranging field trip. It was the spring semester version of the Geology departmental field trip that’s open to all and free to attend. As always, we were rolling deep with more than 45 of us spread across five vans.

Group photo of 45 William & Mary geology students on a wooden deck at James River State Park with mountains in the distant background

Rolling deep on the Spring 2020 W&M Geology departmental field trip.

The Gladstone Gladiators led the trip, they’re a remarkable group of five W&M seniors who’ve spent much of the past year unraveling the challenging geology of the Gladstone 7.5’ quadrangle.  Last summer they completed two months of field work. During the academic year, they’ve refined their digital geologic map while characterizing the chemistry, petrography, and structure of the bedrock in the lab. They’ve also done some exciting geochronology, and they’ll be sharing their research results with a professional audience at a Geological Society of America meeting later this month.

Five smiling students, posed on a foggy day in hats and jackets.

The Gladstone Gladiators. From left to right- Amanda Sasina, Evan Laughlin, Emily Hinshaw, Ryan Walter, and Sam Belding.

On this bright February weekend, the Gladiators led an eager group of students and faculty across the Gladstone area to see the landscape and its underlying bedrock, they also touched upon the region’s human history with its linkages to the geology and environment. The Gladiators dialed it up a few notches, creating the first-ever W&M Geology field trip crossword puzzle (pdf)!

Simplified bedrock geologic map of the Gladstone 7.5' quadrangle, Virginia showing the Eastern Blue Ridge area to the west, the Western piedmont in the north east quadrant, the Spears Mountain Terrane in the south east quadrant, and the Bent Creek Inlier as a small section within the Spears Mountain Terrane near where it borders the Eastern Blue Ridge area.

Generalized geologic map of the Gladstone 7.5′ quadrangle, Virginia.

Our overnight respite was at James River State Park, a quiet and peaceful jewel in Virginia’s constellation of state parks. The park staff set up at late afternoon wagon ride followed by an early evening star-gazing extravaganza – with no clouds and a new moon, it was a spectacular event.

This field trip showcased new research done by William & Mary students – a year ago we had hypotheses about the geological history in this region. Our research grant from the U.S. Geological Survey enabled us to make a modern map and test those hypotheses. We’ve confirmed some of our hypotheses, and made unexpected discoveries that require new models for the tectonic evolution of the central Appalachians.

In the William & Mary Geology department, all of our majors complete an independent research-based senior thesis. Every year, our majors add new knowledge about the workings of the Earth and its environment. Some projects are academic while others are applied, yet they all serve as launching points for our students to successfully find jobs or move into the graduate school realm.

The Gladstone Gladiators all have job and graduate school offers, next year they’ll be scattered from Arizona to Wisconsin.

Students examining an outcrop of bedrock next to the James River.

Evan Laughlin (front right-center) working the crowd at an outcrop along the James River.

Student-led geology field trips are a celebration of the science done by William & Mary undergraduates. These trips also serve to illustrate what research is for younger students and showcase the research opportunities that lay ahead.


Geology students at the Tye River Overlook, James River State Park, Virginia.

Amanda Sasina engages with an enthralled audience at the Tye River Overlook, James River State Park.

Students examine large rounded outcrop of diabase in front of a church in Gladstone, Virginia

W&M Geology people at the Church of the Holy Diabase in Gladstone.

Students relaxing indoors beside a fire at James River State Park.

Fun by the fireside in the lodge at James River State Park.

The centroid activity on the wall to determine Virginia's geographic center.

Sam Belding demonstrates that the Gladstone 7.5’ quadrangle (green box) is, in fact, the geographic centroid of Virginia.

William & Mary geologist makes a point while discussing research in the field, using a white board.

Ryan Walter makes a point on Spears Mtn.

Smiling students grouped in warm weather attire.

A group photo on Spears Mountain with the Blue Ridge Mountains foreign the distant skyline.

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1 Comment
  1. Emily Gercke

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