The (really) great outdoors

Getting your hands dirty through experiential learning

For seven weeks, two summers in a row, Carson lived in a tent. More than 200 kilometres from the nearest town, deep in the Nunavut wilderness, he quickly discovered he could sleep anywhere, even with blazing 24-hour sunlight and the not-so-distant sounds from arctic wolves, whales and polar bears. To the budding geologist, it was a dream.

Real-world experience

“This is exactly what I imagined earth sciences would be like—me, out in the field, studying rocks and searching for geological clues into the area’s physical history,” says Carson. One of 10 students hired by the Geological Survey of Canada, Carson came to “the Nuna,” as he calls it, to chart rock formations and study how the area came to be.

This is exactly what I imagined earth sciences would be like—me, out in the field, studying rocks and searching for geological clues...

“It was a huge area, and we were working from long-outdated maps,” says Carson, who began most days by hopping out of a helicopter into wilderness. “It’s extremely hard to understand what happened two billion years ago, at 800-degrees Celsius. It’s the reason I’m going to lose my hair one day.”

Hair loss aside, he’d have it no other way. “Solving puzzles of the earth fascinates me. There’s still so much we don’t understand about the world around us. Give three different geologists the same question and you’ll receive three different answers, all valid. I love that.”

Carson looking at a sample in a lab.

Exploring his options

As a kid growing up in smalltown Petawawa, Carson loved spending time outdoors. His plan to become a plumber was thwarted when his sister handed him some university brochures and suggested explore additional options. That’s when he discovered the Earth Sciences program and how students combine classwork with field studies. “I remember thinking, this looks cool!”

Soon, Carson was getting his hands dirty while gaining a deeper understanding of the world around him. “I remember feeling nervous at first, especially about the math courses. But the more I reached out, the more I felt supported.” It helped that his professors were as passionate as his classmates. “Everyone knows each other on a first-name basis.”

Carson working in the geology lab.

The support he needed

Indeed, it was one of his professors who helped Carson land his summer job in Nunavut. “As soon as I heard about the opportunity, I went to my professors and said, ‘I want to go to Nunavut. How can we make it happen?’” The next thing he knew, he was booking a plane ticket.

Carson’s close relationships with his professors are especially key in a program of this size, where classes are small, and where helping your prof might include crushing rocks with a steel rod—an extremely tiring yet gratifying task that doubles as a stress reliever. “You can never be angry after crushing rocks.”

I went to my professors and said, ‘I want to go to Nunavut. How can we make it happen?’

Now nearly finished his undergrad, the geology major is about to embark on a master’s degree studying how rocks change through metamorphism. You’d think after four years spent studying rocks he’d be, well, rocked out. And yet his curiosity grows. “There are so many things we don’t know about the earth. I can talk about rocks all day.”

#BeyondIdeas #TentLife #BeBoulder