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Fort Lewis College’s first century concludes with Fall Commencement

The graduating class of Fall 2010 enjoyed a few snowflakes on their way to the ceremony.

For around 180 seniors at Fort Lewis College, Fall Commencement will mark a triumphant end to their undergraduate academic careers. Every graduating class is special, though the 2011 class will be recognized as the Centennial graduating class to commemorate Fort Lewis’ 100 years as a public educational institution.

Fort Lewis College’s Fall Commencement takes place on Saturday, December 17, 2011, in Whalen Gym. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m.

Addressing the College’s newest graduates will be the 2011 FLC Featured Scholar and Professor of Geosciences Dr. Gary Gianniny.

Dr. Gary Gianniny

Dr. Gary Gianinny

“Research builds,” says Fort Lewis College Geosciences Professor Gary Gianniny. It’s an axiom that is illustrated by his research portfolio, which is as deep as it is impressive. His pursuit of knowledge has taken him around the world studying topics from evolution and sedimentary records found in limestone to the energy potential of microbial deposits and the effects of coal extraction on groundwater.

He graduated from Colorado College with a bachelor’s degree in geology and took a few years to be, in his words, “a ski bum,” before resuming his studies. Master’s and doctorate degrees followed, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Geology and Geophysics.

During this time, he started a line of research that continues to interest him today: examining the evolution of the Pennsylvanian Paradox Basin. By studying the limestone, gypsum and other rock layers in the basin, Dr. Gianniny uses the stratigraphic record to determine the causes of ancient sea level change, including changes in climate. This research provides insights into things society needs to know. Insights like: what other kinds of disruptions occurred during these climate change periods that can be read from the sedimentary records found in these rock formations? To what extent can this understanding help us to predict the continuity of gas reservoirs and aquifers in the region?

“This information is interesting to society, but I just love to try to figure out how the system worked that controlled the dance of these ancient shorelines,” he explains.

Pursuing this research brought him to the Four Corners, a move that would eventually bring him to this area and to Fort Lewis College. Now at Fort Lewis College, Dr. Gianniny continues his research, but always strives to bring his students into his work in an effort to teach. Proof can be found in his list of scholarly publications, where more than a dozen were co-authored by FLC students.

Some of those publications came from the many student research opportunities that have arisen from work on the spectacular glacially-sculpted cliffs north of Durango. Dr. Gianniny, an expert on ancient limestones, invited sandstone expert, Dr. Kim Miskell-Gerhardt to join him and his students in trying to decipher the complex geometries of strata. Seven students have worked with the research team, most of whom are now employed in geology or are in graduate school.

“We have found that the climate driven sea level changes interacted with tectonics to produce an intricate shingle-like pattern on this eastern margin of the basin. No one dreamed that these outcrops would provide such a world-class example of interacting sedimentary systems,” he says. “Because I have such dynamic students and colleagues, I think we have nailed the evolutionary dynamics of this portion of the basin.”

“Integrative science that bridges across scientific fields and provides useful information is by far the most exciting thing we can do in research,” he says. “One of our College-wide learning goals is the application of knowledge to inform action: that’s our game.”

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