A Graduating Senior’s Geologic Retrospective

I am Adeene Denton, a senior in this Earth Science department, and that means I’m graduating in a very short time because Rice has decided that I am worthy even if I still feel like I have so, so much to learn. I want to thank the department and look back on what it did for me, and all of us.

There are not enough words to explain how grateful I am to this department, or to express what it has done for me. It was in my classes here that I learned how to think like a scientist, how to frame my questions and shape my logic. This department taught me how to think as it fed me information, and it gave me some of the best friends I’ve ever had in the cohort that I graduate with this year.


Adeene Denton and Larisa LaMere at the Earth Science senior dinner (November 2015).

Very few of the Earth Science majors graduating this year came in to Rice as Earth Science. This is common – maybe it’s because most of us were barely taught earth science in high school, if at all. Maybe it’s because we thought we should be engineers – or lawyers, in my case – based on the people we knew were successful back home. I came in to Rice convinced that I would be a lawyer or a politician, and the metric of my success would be measured by the quality of the suits I would wear or the slickness of my vocabulary.

Then I discovered the Earth Science department, in a crazy turn of events that led to me taking Dr. Alan Levander’s ESCI 324 as a freshman – a class that turned out to be incredibly hard for a humanities major who hadn’t taken physics since freshman year of high school, but also incredibly rewarding. When Alan traced the Earth’s formation back to the Big Bang, vividly describing how the swirling dust of the planetary disk formed the hot, wobbly Earth, I knew I was hooked for life. I wanted to understand the Earth more than anything – from how the mountains rise and fall to the stratification of its interior to its rapidly changing atmosphere and everything in between.

Sitting on salt wash sandstone on the 334 field trip.

Adeene Denton and Elli Ronay sitting on salt wash sandstone on the ESCI 334 field trip (2014).

Since then, I’ve taken as many classes in this department as possible, and gotten to know so many absolutely amazing, inspirational people. I want to thank the professors of this department for teaching and inspiring me, for instilling all of us with knowledge and making it fun at the same time. Thank you to Dr. Alan Levander, who taught my first Earth Science class, and ensured that I would one day write this. To Dr. John Anderson, Dr. Jerry Dickens, and Dr. Jeff Nitrouer, for introducing us to sedimentation, to rivers and oceans and keeping us from drowning in our workloads. To Dr. Juli Morgan for teaching us that rocks, like college students, are also subject to stress and strain. To Dr. Cin-Ty Lee and Dr. Raj Dasgupta for teaching us our rocks and minerals, so hopefully I will never misidentify a brick as a rock again. To Dr. Helge Gonnermann for taking us out into the field where we learned how to make theoretical knowledge really, really practical, and that geology does not mean one right answer. To Helge and Dr. Adrian Lenardic for helping with my senior thesis and making sure I produce good scientific work and can explain it well. Thank you to all the other professors I have met and worked with – Dr. Dale Sawyer, Dr. Carrie Masiello, Dr. Colin Zelt, and everyone else.  If I am a good scientist at all, it is because all of you were there to teach and help me.

It was with this department and its people that we learned that science is not bright and shiny and we pushed onwards anyway – that science sometimes means spending five hours in the lab only to realize that you set the wrong spot size on the laser, or trying to find the bug in your code and see that it’s a missing semicolon in the third line. But that breakthrough moment – that moment is worth everything. That moment when you are standing in the middle of nowhere, looking at the notes on your field map that is so worn it’s tattered, and suddenly the pieces fall together and you know.

Also on the 334 field trip (2015).

Clockwise from bottom left – Stephanie Zou, Emily Paine, Beineng Zhang, Jeffrey Piccirillo and Kelsey Crocker on the 334 field trip (2015).

We joined this department because we all wanted to know, deep in ourselves, how the earth works. How to map it, how it shapes itself, how it was born and where it will go. Now, we go to grad school or to jobs or to keep figuring ourselves out, still not entirely sure of our passions, but so much surer of our directions than when we came in. I am who I am because of the incredible people in this department, and I am forever grateful that I found this place and these rocks and these humans who love rocks right along with me. There are eleven undergrads leaving Rice, but we are coming out as capable scientists, ready to pursue completely different life paths. We came here looking to understand how the earth works. Maybe an era or an eon from now, we’ll know.


Kelsey and Jeffrey on the 2015 ESCI 334 field trip. Thank you both for being such amazing friends.

Kelsey and Jeffrey on the 2015 ESCI 334 field trip. Thank you both for being such amazing friends.

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