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Engaging Geophysics Students in the Field—the Summer of Applied Geophysical Experience (SAGE)

By Darcy K. McPhee and Paul A. Bedrosian

SAGE students SAGE students setting up a GPS base station in Caja del Rio area west of Sante Fe, N. Mex.
Photo Credit: Aviva Sussman

SAGE is a unique educational program that blends teaching and research as a partnership among universities, industry, and federal agencies. SAGE, which began in 1983 as a partnership between Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists and a group of university professors, grew to include industry, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, and federal agencies including the USGS, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. For the past 10 years, USGS geophysicists have contributed to this exciting program as mentors in the classroom and field.

SAGE students collect gravity data
Collecting gravity data west of Santa Fe, N. Mex., using a Scintrex CG-3 gravimeter.
Photo Credit: Aviva Sussman

Since its founding, over 700 qualified undergraduate students, graduate students, and professionals have attended SAGE. The primary goal of SAGE is to involve students in all phases of applied geophysics using modern field equipment and computer processing/interpretation tools. It teaches the principles and applications of the major land-based geophysical methods (seismic, magnetics, gravity, GPS, electromagnetics) in a field-based, hands-on setting.

SAGE field problems include mapping archaeological sites, exploring geothermal resources, and studying subsurface structure and water resources of the Rio Grande rift near Santa Fe, N. Mex. Recently, SAGE has developed close relationships with several local Pueblos in the Santa Fe area, who have hosted much of SAGE's fieldwork on their lands. This cooperation has afforded the opportunity for Pueblo high school and college students to help with SAGE data acquisition and fieldwork, and to participate in geology field trips.

Industry and federal agency contributions include visits from professionals, evening discussions and short courses, assistance with fieldwork, financial donations, and loans of equipment and software. These interactions alert students to career and job opportunities, inject a high level of technical expertise, and create a stimulating environment that is unmatched at most college campuses. SAGE partners and faculty also provide future networking options and help students to select graduate schools and begin careers in today's workforce.

Student evaluations are used to assess the program's effectiveness and to make improvements. The success of the program is reflected in the high rate of SAGE undergraduates continuing on to graduate school and in the accomplishments of former SAGE students in their careers in industry, academia, and Government laboratories. This unique partnership is a best practice for advancing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education, Youth in the Great Outdoors, and diversity and minority goals.