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Geoscience student participates in coveted NSF-funded internship

The pages of Aaron Lees field guide were warped from the rain, and the notes he took in red ink were smeared and sometimes illegible. Almost six weeks of nothing but downpours and, if he was lucky, a few light mists.
The pages of Aaron Lee's field guide were warped from the rain, and the notes he took in red ink were smeared and sometimes illegible. Almost six weeks of nothing but downpours and, if he was lucky, a few light mists.

But maybe it wasn't the wet Maine weather that damaged the Austin Peay State University geosciences major's field guide. Lee might have taken on too much water as he kayaked out to the small islands that dotted the New England coast. Whatever the source of the wrinkled pages, the book serves as a reminder of the prestigious but grueling, eight-week research internship he participated in last summer.

In late May 2009, shortly after finishing his junior year, Lee traveled north to join only nine other geosciences undergraduates from around the country for the exclusive National Science Foundation-funded internship. According to an announcement for the program, the internship provided these students an opportunity to learn “cutting-edge precision digital survey techniques as applied to geologic mapping in coastal Maine.”

That meant they were helping create hyper accurate charts of this environment that will be of immense help for future researchers, engineers, cartographers and a wealth of other professionals.

“No one's really studied the geology there to a great degree,” Lee said. “There was previous work done to characterize the islands. It'd been observed but not to this detail.”

The interns stayed in an old cabin on the weekends, but every Monday, Lee and the others would pack their survey gear and food into two 10-passenger vans and tow a trailer full of kayaks to the coast.

Once in the water, they'd paddle out to the islands, spending a week at a time in the field, studying and charting the terrain and huddling in tents at night to avoid the rain. But Lee sounded oddly happy when he recently described his stay on the islands. Not only did the work have an adventurous quality to it, but also he knew it was preparing him for a future career in geology and geography.

“For experience, nothing can beat hands-on field research,” he said. “Instead of the academic world where everything is cut and dry, you actually get feet on the ground to look at the situations in the field and interpret what's out there.”

Once he returned to Tennessee with his battered field book, Lee took his notes and helped create a poster that he and the other interns will present at the upcoming Northeast Section Geological Society of America meeting in Baltimore, Md.

“Not many times does an undergraduate get to conduct new research and have it presented,” he laughed. “I mostly went for the sea-kayaking.” -- Charles Booth