Student Research

Independent Study (I.S.) is a graduation requirement at The College of Wooster. Each student completes three semesters of research supervised and mentored by a Wooster faculty member. In the Geology Department this almost always includes field and laboratory work in the summer between the junior and senior years as well. My recent I.S. students are introduced below, along with their projects.


Matthew Shearer (’18) was part of a small team (me and Luke Kosowatz below) working in the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnati region. Matthew studied the bryozoans before and after the Richmondian Invasion.





Luke Kosowatz (’17) worked with Matthew Shearer (’18) and me to assess patterns of bioerosion in the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnati area associated with the Richmondian Invasion.






Macy Conrad (’18) traveled with me to southwestern France where we worked with Paul Taylor (Natural History Museum, London) to study encrusting bryozoans on oysters from three formations in the Type Campanian.





Brandon Bell (’18) was a double major in History and Geology. His study was an examination of the early days of seismology, using the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to look at both the development of the science and the complex interactions of Japanese and American geologists as they debated seismological theory.









Four of my Independent Study students this year were part of Team Minnesota. We studied the Decorah Formation (Upper Ordovician) with the expert assistance of Andrew Retzler (’11), the Paleozoic Geologist of Minnesota, and four excellent Lab Technician Nick Wiesenberg. Team Minnesota had several integrated projects including paleoecology, biostratigraphy, and systematic analysis. The students are listed individually below.


Nikki Bell (’17) assessed the brachiopods of the Decorah Formation exposed in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.








Rachel Wetzel (’17) studied the trepostome bryozoan Prasopora in the Decorah Formation of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa.






Etienne Fang (’17) examined Ordovician “iron ooids” of the Decorah Formation in southern Minnesota as part of her I.S. work.







Dean Thomas (’17) studied conodonts from the dissolved out of limestones of the Deborah Formation.








CassidyJester (’17) traveled to southern England to collect and examine sclerobionts (hard substrate dwellers) associated with iron oxide oncoids (“snuffboxes”) in the Middle Jurassic Inferior Oolite exposed in Dorset. We were assisted in the field by long-time friend Tim Palmer and a new friend Bob Chandler.





Sarah McGrath (’17), did her project research at Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution where she had an internship with Delia Oppo to study tropical Atlantic currents during the last glacial interval using foraminiferans.









Mae Meredith 2015Mae Kemsley (left) and Meredith Mann (right) did their Senior Independent Study research on the coast of Yorkshire in the summer of 2015. Mae worked with belemnites found in the Speeton Clay (Cretaceous), sorting out their paleoecology with carbon and oxygen isotopes. Meredith studied a Jurassic section at Filey Brigg, the tip of which they are standing on here. She collected rocks and fossils from the Passage Beds to see how the communities changed with sea level fluctuations. She also did a bit of isotope work.






Sarah Bender bioSarah Bender spent a lot of time underwater for her Senior Independent Study research. She worked on a Keck Geology Consortium project in Belize doing lots of diving on spectacular coral reefs. Her title: “Grazer Dynamics on a Relict Acroporid Patch Reef System and Their Implications for the Carbonate Budget at Coral Gardens, Belize”. She also had an earlier research experience in The Bahamas.



Coleman-030914_bioColeman Fitch did his Senior Independent Study work in the beautiful Cincinnatian Group exposed around the tri-state area of Indian, Kentucky and Ohio. His title: “Macroborings and Their Relationship to Encrusting Bryozoans on Brachiopods and Bivalves from the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnatian Group“.



William-031014_bioWilliam Harrison also centered his Senior Independent Study project in the Cincinnatian Group, with a fascinating summer experience doing experimental bryozoology at a marine lab in Panama. His title: “The Symbiosis Between Bioclaustrated Organisms and Their Host Bryozoans in the Late Ordovician“.




CTulungen 15 bioIan Tulungen worked for his Senior Independent Study on a magnificent collection of platyceratid snails and their encrusters from the Silurian of Indiana. His title: “Effects of a Growing Substrate on Secondarily Tiered Cornulitids of the Waldron Shale: Middle Silurian (Wenlockian) of Indiana“.






BoschBioSteph Bosch was a member of Team Israel 2013. Her project was finding and describing the first bryozoans from the tropical Jurassic, working in the beautiful Makhtesh Gadol of southern Israel. The title of her Independent Study thesis is: “First bryozoan fauna described from the Jurassic tropics: Specimens from the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Upper Callovian) in southern Israel“. Her work, which includes descriptions of new bryozoan species, will soon be published in a journal article.




MmariBioOscar Mmari was also on Team Israel 2013. He is the first Wooster student to work on the extensive phosphatic units exposed south of Makhtesh Gadol, and the first to do some structural geology. His Independent Study thesis title is: “Syndepositional faulting, shallowing and intraformational conglomerates in the Mishash Formation (Upper Cretaceous, Campanian) at Wadi Hawarim, southern Israel“.





ReinthalBioLizzie Reinthal was the third member of Team Israel 2013. Like Steph, she worked in the Jurassic of Makhtesh Gadol, in her case examining the taphonomy of crinoids. Her I.S. title: “Taphonomic feedback and facilitated succession in a Middle Jurassic shallow marine crinoid community (Matmor Formation, southern Israel)“. Part of her work, including a description of a new crinoid species, will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Paleontology.



KugelBioScott Kugel was part of a Keck Geology Consortium team for his thesis work, so I have no images of him in the field. His I.S. is titled: “Discerning extreme weather events in the Connecticut River system through the study of sediments in upland dams and flood control reservoirs of western Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont“.







Richa071212Richa Ekka did her Independent Study fieldwork in Estonia, mostly on the western island of Saaremaa. Her I.S. title is: “Stratigraphy and paleoenvironments of the Soeginina Beds (Paadla Formation, Lower Ludlow, Upper Silurian) on Saaremaa Island, Estonia“. She specialized in hypersaline depositional environments and shallow-water dolomites. The high point of her fieldwork was finding a complete eurypterid.






Jonah071212Jonah Novek also worked in Estonia, primarily on the island of Hiiumaa. He especially enjoyed shallow marine invertebrate communities of the Silurian. His I.S. title: “Analysis of a Rhuddanian (Llandovery, Lower Silurian) sclerobiont community in the Hilliste Formation on Hiiumaa Island, Estonia: a hard substrate-dwelling recovery fauna“. Jonah’s brachiopod-rich communities are among the earliest in the Silurian — soon after a major mass extinction.





Kit072812Kit Price
‘s Independent Study project involved sclerobionts from the Upper Ordovician of the Cincinnati region. The title of her I.S. was: “Upside-down and inside-out: Cryptic skeletobiont communities from the Late Ordovician of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky“. She carefully mapped out the growth of sclerobionts such as bryozoans and cornulitids that grew inside mollusk shells.



Melissa031712Melissa Torma
did her fieldwork in southern Israel in the middle of the Negev during the 2012 Spring Break. Her I.S. title: “Patchiness and ecological structure in a Middle Jurassic equatorial crinoid-brachiopod community (Matmor Formation, Callovian, southern Israel)“. Her worked helped sort out the brachiopods of this diverse fossil fauna for a later paleoecological analysis.








Rachel Matt‘s I.S. project was entitled: “Paleoecology of the Hilliste Formation (Lower Silurian, Llandovery, Rhuddanian) Hiiumaa Island, Estonia: An example of a shallow marine recovery fauna.” She traveled with me and Nick Fedorchuk (below) to Estonia in the summer of 2011. She specialized in the invertebrate fossils (primarily brachiopods, corals and stromatoporoids) found in the lowest Silurian exposed on the little western Estonian island of Hiiumaa. You can see Rachel and Nick all cleaned up for their GSA poster presentations on the Wooster Geologists blog.





Nick Fedorchuk‘s I.S. project was: “Stratigraphy and paleoecology at the Wenlock/Ludlow Boundary on Saaremaa Island, Estonia.” He worked on the larger western Estonian island of Saaremaa doing a centimeter-by-centimeter analysis of a critical boundary section. Nick’s work required much detailed petrography of limestones and dolomites with thin-sections. Our essential Estonian colleague and friend on these projects was Olev Vinn of the University of Tartu.






Megan Innis traveled with me to Alabama and Mississippi in the summer of 2010 where we met our friend Paul Taylor (Natural History Museum, London) and Caroline Sogot (Cambridge University) for fieldwork at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary.  We found sclerobionts preserved on shell surfaces before and after the mass extinction which became the basis for Megan’s work and a Geological Society of America presentation. Megan showed that some borings, such as those by sponges, were virtually unaffected by the extinction event. Others (notably bivalve borings) changed distribution dramatically.

Andrew Retzler and Micah Risacher went with me to Israel in the summer of 2010 to study Upper Cretaceous fossils and rocks in the Negev Highlands.  Andrew concentrated on shark teeth in the Menuha Formation, and Micah worked on the invertebrate fossils in the Zihor Formation.  Their work also resulted in two GSA presentations (Micah, Andrew), and Andrew and I have recently had a manuscript on the fossil shark teeth accepted in Cretaceous Research. Our excellent Israeli colleagues and friends are Yoav Avni and Amihai Sneh of the Geological Survey of Israel.



Michael Snader closely studied a new core drilled through the Black Hand Sandstone (Lower Carboniferous) in northeastern Ohio to sort out depositional facies and history.  A complete core like this is rare for this interval, so his work has considerable significance.








Rob McConnell and Palmer Shonk studied Silurian rocks and fossils with me and our colleague Bill Ausich (Ohio State University) on the beautiful island of Saaremaa in Estonia. Rob did a paleoenvironmental analysis of the Jaani Formation (Wenlock), concentrating on the Mustjala and Ninase members at three sites along the northern Saaremaa coast:  Liiva Cliff, Suuriku Cliff, and Panga Cliff.








Palmer worked on a paleoenvironmental reconstruction of the Äigu Beds (Pridoli) in the Kaugatuma formation on the Sõrve Peninsula of southwestern Saaremaa. He described a complex crinoid forest in a high-energy limestone sequence.









Elyssa Belding (now Elyssa Krivicich) traveled with me to the Negev Desert of southern Israel to continue a long-term project on Jurassic stratigraphy and paleoecology. Among many accomplishments, she helped put together the first complete stratigraphic column of the Matmor Formation as part of her thesis.








Heather Hunt was the first student in 25 years to return to the Logan Formation (Lower Carboniferous) exposed in Wooster to assess its paleoecological and sedimentological history.  She took advantage of a new series of roadcuts and found a wonderful array of fossils, most of which would be familiar to generations of Wooster geology students who visited the “Little Arizona” outcrop (which is now long gone).



John Sime went with me and our colleague Paul Taylor (Natural History Museum, London) to investigate the taphonomy of sclerobiont communities in Late Cretaceous baculitid conchs preserved in the Pierre Shale of South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. We found very interesting preservational patterns which may be related to the unusual water chemistry of the Western Interior Seaway at the time.









Andrew Milligan (’08) collected Ordovician cystoids with me in northern Estonia. We were hosted by my friend Olev Vinn at the University of Tartu. These fossils are found in an unusual fossiliferous oil shale which holds many paleontological and sedimentological puzzles.




Sophie Lehmann (’08, left) and Meredith Sharpe (’08, right) traveled with me to the Negev Desert of southern Israel to continue a long-term project on Jurassic stratigraphy and paleoecology. They worked with our colleague Yoav Avni of the Geological Survey of Israel in Makhtesh Gadol on the Matmor Formation. Sophie measured and sampled the basal units of the Matmor and Meredith did the same with the top.





Cordy Dennison-Budak (’07) completed her I.S. study on bioerosion of Late Ordovician brachiopods in the Cincinnati region, focusing primarily on unusual “half borings” preserved on the surfaces of strophomenids. She is on the far left with Else Zavar (’07) and Emiliann Griffin (’07).






Elyse Zavar (’07) finished her project on the Middle-Late Jurassic (Callovian-Oxfordian) Transition in southern Poland, discovering a diverse cryptic encrusting community in these boundary rocks.





Emiliann Griffin (’07) worked on an Eemian (Late Pleistocene) sea level event recorded on Great Inagua and San Salvador Islands in The Bahamas. Emiliann concentrated on the ecological succession of coral and molluscan communities in exposed Eemian reefs. Our colleagues were Al Curran of Smith College and Bill Thompson of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.


Ann Steward (’07) also worked on the Eemian (Late Pleistocene) sea level event recorded on Great Inagua and San Salvador Islands in The Bahamas. Ann helped sort out the complicated geochronology of this event with U/Th dating of coral samples.








Jeff Bowen (’06) worked on a very shallow Middle Jurassic coral and sponge community exposed in Makhtesh Gadol in the central Negev of southern Israel. We were assisted by our friend Yoav Avni of the Geological Survey of Israel.









Erica Clites (’06, left) and Monica Umstead (’06, right) did their I.S. fieldwork in Dorset, southern England, on Jurassic communities. We were assisted by our friend Tim Palmer, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.







Drew Feucht (’05) did fieldwork on Long Island, The Bahamas, with me and Al Curran of Smith College. During the summer we described the stratigraphy and paleoecology of the transition between the Pleistocene and Holocene on the island.





Suzanne Boyenton (’05) studied the carbonate petrography and paleoenvironments of Ordovician limestones in central Tennessee. She and I were assisted by Jeff Bowen (’06) and Monica Umstead (’06) in our summer fieldwork near Nashville.





Allison Mione (’05, left) and Kevin Wolfe (’05, right) did fieldwork with me in the Negev Desert of southern Israel. We were supported by the Geological Survey of Israel, especially Amihai Sneh and Yoav Avni. Allison described and interpreted an unusual Triassic bivalve from Makhtesh Ramon, and Kevin worked on a Jurassic rocky shore the team found in Makhtesh Qatan.






Andy Shields (’04) and Aaron House (’04, below) were part of a project to sort out the paleoecology, taxonomy, and distribution of Ordovician borings in the Upper Mississippi River Valley. They spent part of the summer in Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, northern Kentucky, and southern Ohio collecting bored substrates. Aaron concentrated on the borings in the bryozoan Prasopora, and Andy looked at the dynamics of the “worm” boring Trypanites.

I wish I had a field photo of Aaron House (’04)! We’ll use his much later LinkedIn image. See details above.





Jessica Hiznay (’04) studied the distribution of a Pennsylvanian limestone unit in an underground mine in northeastern Ohio. She and Mark were assisted by the chief geologist of the mine, Tim Miller. Jessica’s goal was to determine the causes of “bad roof” in the mine, which she did.




Katherine Nicholson (’03, right) traveled with me to southern England in May 2002 to study the fossil fauna of the Portland Limestone (Late Jurassic). She sorted out the dynamics of a cryptic encrusting community inside mollusk shells in this classic unit. Rich Poole (’03, left) assisted us in the field as he added data and observations to his I.S. project on creationist geology, which was part of his double major with Religious Studies.




Kathy Bremar (’03) was part of the 2002 Keck Australia project. She analyzed the sedimentology and stratigraphy of a Pleistocene conglomeratic unit in southeastern Australia. This is a great photo she took much later!





Jessica Conroy (’03) was a participant in the 2002 Keck Ireland program. She completed a detailed analysis and interpretation of the fossils and sediments in a core from an Irish bog. She concentrated on the population and ecophenotypic dynamics of freshwater mollusks.





Sara Austin (’02, lower), Jerome Hall (’02, upper) and Andrea Martin (’02, below) traveled with me to Jamaica to study the Falmouth Formation (Eemian, Last Interglacial) as part of a continuing program to document Late Pleistocene climate fluctuations as recorded in coral reef development. These students were also featured in a Science article on the value of undergraduate research (August 31, 2001, issue).





Here is Andrea Martin (’02, see above). I don’t have a field photo of her, so this excellent image is taken from her later Facebook page.






More students will be added with time. I’m proud of each and every one of them!


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