When I was in high school, I already knew that I wanted to go to college and get a
bachelor's degree in Geology. I started looking for a college to attend when I was in 1
0th grade. I wanted to study geology because my two passions were planets and fossils.
I actually found a college that looked cool. There was a professor there that worked with
fossilized star fish, so "fossils" was the direction I leaned when I chose to go to
Earlham College is a small Liberal Arts college in Richmond, Indiana. (For those of
you that live in the midwestern U.S. or get Chicago's WGN on cable TV, Richmond, Indiana,
is the place where Tom Raper's RV store is...). The college has an excellent geolgy
program; I learned all of the basics and learned them well because the professors spend a
lot of time with the students to help them learn. Going to this college was a fantastic
When I was a junior (3rd year) in college, something terrible happened; I was watching
it live on television, as it was happening. The Space Shuttle Challenger blew up. Seven
people were on board, including a school teacher. I had never experienced anything like
this before. It was very devastating for me. The explosion put the whole space program in
doubt for a few months. But this explosion helped change my direction--back toward
planets rather than fossils. I was determined to be a part of the space program and
determined to play a role in exploring the planets.
During the summer of 1986 I managed to get an internship at the Lunar and Planetary
Institute in Houston, Texas. The shuttles were still grounded. Living near the Johnson
Space Center that summer was an incredible experience. Meeting astronauts, seeing Moon
rocks, talking with various experts on space and planetary geology--it was great. That
was where I started to do Mars geology research. I worked with photos and infrared
observations from the Viking orbiters.
A year later, I started graduate school at Arizona State University. ASU is one of a
small handful of universities around the U.S. that offer the opportunity for people to
study the planets. ASU is particularly good for students that want to focus on the
geology of planets, because there are lots of opportunities to explore real landscapes on
Earth that are similar to those on planets like Mars.
I started a master's degree program in Geology in 1987 at ASU and I am still at this
university today. I finished the master's degree in 1990, then decided to pursue a Ph.D.
It was not an easy decision to make, but I decided that it would open lots of doors for
me; if I left, many of these doors would close. My Ph.D. research focused mainly on sand
dunes on Mars and Earth. I also started the K-12 outreach program during this time. I
completed my doctorate in 1994.