Assistant Professor, Commonwealth Honors College Professor in Geosciences
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What is your field of study?

I am an Organic Geochemist. For my research, I look at look at molecules that are preserved in sediments to examine past environments on Earth.


What drew you to this field?

Initially what brought me to this field was an undergraduate research experience offered by the National Science Foundation. I had the opportunity to go to Lake Tanganyika in eastern Africa and spend a couple months during the summer doing research. Lake Tanganyika is really unique: it’s nearly 1,500 meters deep at its deepest point, it’s been around for many millions of years,  it has this great sedimentary rock (making it a great climate archive), and it also contains very unique biology. I would put my snorkel on and stick my head under the water, and it was amazing. There are several hundred species of brightly colored fish that are found only there. While I was there, I got to see this beautiful and unique natural environment, but I also got to see the human impacts on the environment. Around the lake, there’s a lot of deforestation, and because of this, you can see areas where huge landslides go down into the water, which impacts the water quality. There’s also a lot of overfishing in the area. I became really interested in the lake, not just because it’s a great climate archive, but also because it’s such an important resource for the people in the surrounding area.


What do you see as the potential or value of this field?

Geoscience is a great field because it integrates physics, chemistry, and biology with geology. One thing I didn’t realize at first is that subjects like oceanography, certain aspects of marine sciences, and climate change research all fall under the umbrella of geosciences.


What honors courses are you teaching? What other courses are you teaching?

For honors courses, I teach “Biologic Oceanography” and “Life’s History in Biogeochemistry.” I am also teaching a graduate course called “Analytical Techniques in Biogeochemistry.”


What does honors teaching mean to you? How is it different from a traditional classroom?

I’ve done a lot of undergraduate teaching at other universities, but here I’ve had the privilege of only teaching honors students as undergraduates. My honors courses are relatively similar to graduate courses. It’s a smaller group of students, there’s a lot of student-faculty interaction, and I incorporate a lot of hands-on activities, as well as reading and discussion of literature.


From your experiences so far, what do you find is unique about Commonwealth Honors College students?

I love teaching honors students. My students are very interested, motivated, and they ask a lot of great questions. It’s a really fun environment for me to teach in. I definitely notice a difference in the honors students at UMass, compared to the other universities where I’ve taught. They represent a higher caliber of student. Many of my colleagues who have been here for a long time have noticed this higher quality growing in the general student body at UMass as well.