Getting Their Hands Dirty (and a Great Education)

OSU Field Camp 2017Every summer, the soon-to-be seniors of OSU’s geology program descend on the Ochoco Mountains, a remote region of rolling hills and dusty dirt roads 50 miles east of Bend. Their destination is Field Camp (GEO 495), a six-week crash course where students gain hands-on experience with the fundamentals of geology field work.

It’s a summer program in its eighth decade, going strong thanks to past participants like John Erickson ’70 and David Hite ’62 who want to help today’s students gain firsthand experience that will lead to a career.

A 1969 Field Camp participant, Erickson was offered a job in the petroleum industry immediately after graduation. He was stationed in another remote location – this time north of the Arctic Circle. Weather aside, “Alaska was a lot like the field camp,” he says, “and I was thankful to have the experience.”

Hite’s 1961 Field Camp summer led to over 20 years of field experience consulting for oil companies in Alaska. He too says Field Camp was one of the most important courses he took at OSU.

“We had never done field work like that. I had to learn how to map data with sporadic data points, and I spent a lot of my career doing that in Prudhoe Bay,” Hite says. “Field work is the keystone of my success.”

Along with the practical experience they gained, both alumni extoll the importance of mentorship from OSU professors. Hite fondly remembers working under W.D. “Doc” Wilkinson, the legendary mineralogy professor and namesake of OSU Geology’s campus home. Doc was tough but caring.

“There was no hiding from Doc,” says Hite. “One time, I remember measuring a section of black shale outcrop at Field Camp, hotter than the devil, and unsure whether I was doing the right thing, when we heard this Jeep coming along. Suddenly, Doc was yelling in his gruff voice, ‘Stay where you are, boys.’ We were so worried we were doing something wrong. But he appeared with a six-pack of beer, and after that I was more comfortable doing the work.”

Field Camp toolsField Camp has changed a lot since the days of Doc Wilkinson. Students still sleep in tents but OSU has built a small kitchen, bathrooms, and a dining hall, thanks to generous supporters like Erickson and Hite. In addition to backing the program in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, some alumni have established scholarships to help students cover the field course fee and make up for income they could have earned with a summer job.

The course is mandatory for graduation for a reason, they stress.

“You simply can’t be a geologist if you haven’t done the field work,” Hite says. “Because the geology is never as straight forward as a text book.”

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