Geosciences Department Shares $550,000 NSF Grant for Undergraduate Research

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., August 25, 2014—The Keck Geology Consortium, a national alliance of 18 liberal arts colleges of which Williams College was the founding institution, has received a 3-year grant of $550,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue its support of intercollegiate collaborative research projects for undergraduates and faculty.

Beginning each summer, the Consortium supports about 50 students in a number of year-long research projects in this country and abroad. Student work, in collaboration with faculty co-investigators, leads to senior theses, talks at regional and national meetings, and published articles in professional journals.

Now entering its 28th year, the Consortium was formed in 1986 among 10 institutions in response to a proposal to the W. M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles submitted by Williams geosciences professors William T. Fox, Edward Brust Professor of Geology and Mineralogy, Emeritus, and Reinhard A. Wobus, the Edna McConnell Clark Professor of Geology. From 1986 to 2001 the Keck Foundation contributed more than $5 million to support research projects with participants from an ever-widening group of schools. Since 2001 the Consortium has been funded by the NSF, the ExxonMobil Corporation, and by annual contributions from the 18 member colleges.

More than 1,400 undergraduate geology students and 125 faculty from more than 100 colleges and universities have participated in approximately 175 research projects around the world. At Williams the number of Keck- supported students approaches 90, and all of the seven current geosciences faculty members have advised Keck students, with most also having led projects.

During the current academic year David Dethier, Edward Brust Professor of Geology and Mineralogy, is directing an inter-institutional project in the Boulder Creek watershed of the Colorado Front Range aimed at quantifying erosion rates and processes, especially as a result of recent wildfires in that area. Williams alumnus William Ouimet, Class of 2001, a former student of Dethier’s and a faculty member at the University of Connecticut, is co-advising the project, which includes current seniors Victor Major of Telluride, Colo., and Will Wicherski of Boise, Idaho. Senior Nell Davis from Middlesex, Vt., advised by Wobus, is studying recent lava flows in Iceland, which she mapped during the summer and is comparing with experimental lava flows generated at the Syracuse University Lava Project. All participants will present their results in the spring at the annual Keck Undergraduate Research Symposium, to be hosted this year by Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.

In addition to Williams, the members of the Keck Geology Consortium are Amherst, Beloit, Carleton, Colgate, Colorado College, Franklin & Marshall, Macalester, Mt. Holyoke, Oberlin, Pomona, Smith, Trinity (San Antonio), Union, Washington and Lee, Wesleyan, Whitman, and College of Wooster. The current director of the group is Robert Varga at Pomona College.


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.