PROFile: Digging up the life of a sedimentologist

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Traveling may be intriguing to some, or it might be a nuisance to those who travel for work. For Dr. Andrea Stevens Goddard, while she is not teaching geology, life consists of traveling to different parts of the world to study and conduct research on the Earth’s rocks and sediments.

Goddard did not always have plans to get into geology. Something changed as she went through her freshman year of college, and after a long journey of time and research, everything fell into place and led her to where she is now.

Goddard went to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana to dual major in economics and math. After taking a Physical Geology course during the second semester of her freshman year, Goddard took an interest in geology and wanted to change her major, but was afraid she was too far in.

“I took a few more classes and then decided to switch math out for geology,” Goddard said. “I thought I would never have a chance to do this again.”

Goddard decided that she wanted to become a field geologist when she attended a spring break trip to Utah to study field methods in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

Goddard graduated after four-and-a-half years with a degree in economics and a degree in geology and geophysics, with a concentration in math.

While in school, Goddard held a variety of jobs, from waitressing and working at a dollar store, to being the business manager for Sears Holdings in Chicago.

After the job at Sears, Goddard took a several-month long break in her education. After some time, she packed her bags and went to graduate school at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

“Tucson is the desert, not like I’m in the Grand Canyon, it’s at a much higher elevation than people think,” Goddard said. “We were far south in Arizona, so we were in the low desert, but it’s great for geologists.”

Goddard interned at Chevron, an oil company, during her time in graduate school. A lot of oil companies were in Texas at the time and Goddard was not sure she wanted to live there.

After graduate school, Goddard made the decision to become a professor to do her own research and run her own labs. She became a postdoctoral researcher for one year, a temporary position that does not offer a degree, but does not require teaching.

“You are kind of in this glorious middle zone where you just get to do research and you get to work on a project,” Goddard said.

After her year in graduate school, she applied for and received a position at Rowan University. Goddard gives herself the title of a sedimentologist, someone who uses information from rocks to determine what past landscapes, climates, and tectonic plate boundaries looked like.  

Along with teaching her classes, she also has many projects in the works and more places she would like to travel.

“I have a couple of grants in to go to New Zealand, so those we’ll find out if there’s funding for that. If there is funding, an undergraduate student would be able to go, too,” Goddard said.

Goddard finds New Zealand interesting because it has a longer plate boundary and there are a few mountain ranges that affect weather patterns and storm systems.  

“The mountains are blocking the transfer of those clouds that are carrying the precipitation to the east side [of the mountains]. It’s called an orographic barrier,” Goddard said. “You have a very wet west side and a very dry east side.”

Goddard has proposals to work in the Mid-Continent of the United States to understand how heat transfers through sedimentary rock in the crust, and is also working with a colleague on a project in Mongolia.

Dr. Gerald Rustic, who is also a Geology professor at Rowan, shared the unique way that Goddard begins each of her classes.

“Before her GEO101 class, she plays music, something to get people relaxed and ready for class,” Rustic said. “You might hear some Johnny Cash before your plate tectonics lecture. When her colleague from NASA GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies) came by to talk to the class, it was Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’.”

Dr. Rustic suggests that any student who takes her class should remove their earbuds and listen for the connection between the song and the day’s lecture.

Dr. Kristyn Voegele, another colleague of Goddard’s at Rowan, said that Goddard does an excellent job explaining and teaching about rocks to people who do not understand.

“She is very nice, optimistic and a hard-working person and loves fieldwork,” Voegele said. “Her and Dr. Rustic know some of the same people and they share hilarious stories about field adventures with these people.”

Goddard has won awards for her work in the past, including one from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which is competitive.

She also won the National Geographic Young Explorers Grant, which gave her a title and some money for research and graduate school.

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