On the rocks: Participants in the AAPG Clastic Reservoir Facies field seminar, studying exposures of the Ferron Sandstone in Neilson Wash, Henry Mountains Basin, Utah. Photo courtesy of Tom Ryer
Short courses and field seminars, part of AAPG’s educational outreach, follow a similar prescription: top-quality instruction, engaging topics, inquisitive students, good food and exciting locations.
Wait … good food?
But first, some basic information: AAPG’s education offerings have been an important part of the Association’s mission – some would say the most important part – for decades. Literally thousands of the geoscientists responsible for providing energy to the world received at least part of their training via AAPG courses.
Participants include professionals from the industry’s largest companies as well as consultants who office only with themselves. Students get indoctrinated, professors get updates, experts in one area find out there may be something in another area they need to know about.
Instructors are varied, too, comprising academicians as well as veteran industry experts with a lifetime of practical experience.
And since short courses and field seminars are a valuable part of building Association programs in the training and education of members, getting more working geologists and professionals in the industry to take part in these courses is a priority.
And that part of the mission – developing courses that are not only up-to-date but actually needed by industry professionals – is a big part of AAPG’s challenge.
In the Trenches
Instructors have their challenges, too.
Some who have led such programs, like AAPG members John Holbrook and Peter Scholle, say that while the overall experience is rewarding for both student and instructor, challenges abound both inside the classroom or in the field – and on the way, there are plenty, too.
Holbrook, earth and environmental sciences professor at UT-Arlington, teaches two AAPG courses – “Getting Started in Fluvial Stratigraphy” and “Fundamentals of Sequence Stratigraphy” – and he says to teach a successful short course an instructor must find not just the right subject matter and a collection of interested participants, he must find something else.
“Time is the fire in which we burn,” Holbrook said. “I don’t think AAPG can do much about that. We are all just strapped for time.”
Once it’s found, however, he likens the dynamic and the relationships in a short course to those in any conventional classroom.
“I’ve been told by different students that if they can come up with one good concept or technique from the course that they can actually put to use on their play, the course is a success for them,” he said.
Unlike a college course, however, where there is an assumption that students enrolled have a similar base of knowledge, those who take a short course are more likely to arrive with varying backgrounds. His goal, then, as he describes it, is to provide a “story” that will permit the participant to fill in his or her educational gaps.
“And if in the process I gave them a useful tool they did not have before, I really feel good about what we have done that day,” he said. “I figure I’ve done my job.”
For AAPG award winner Peter Scholle, formerly of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mines, the main challenge in either a short course or a field seminar is finding the right student-teacher ratio.
“My wife (also a geologist who partners with him in most of his AAPG courses) and I have had many fine experiences both in running field seminars in the Guadalupe and Sacramento Mountains of west Texas and New Mexico, and in presenting carbonate petrography and carbonate depositional models seminars,” Scholle said. “The best experiences were usually in smaller classes where we could spend more one-on-one teaching and discussion time with participants.
“Large classes, especially when it is a mixed audience of geologists, geophysicists and engineers, are the most difficult to teach,” he continued.
“It is hard to find a level for such a diverse audience that does not bore the knowledgeable or baffle the inexperienced attendees.”
A Taste For Success
And for AAPG, there’s another level of challenges – defining and developing the courses that members need in today’s rapidly evolving profession, and then finding the very best experts to lead the class or field seminar.
One new approach: AAPG now tries to find universities that regularly offer field trips to students, and then ask if the institution would lead similar courses to the AAPG general community.
“Further, we have put our Education Committee members on alert to be on the lookout for interesting trips they see or participate in that they could recommend as well,” said Debbi Boonstra, AAPG’s education department manager.
“I’ve always tried to put myself in the place of the students’ position,” Holbrook said. “Relevance to what the student does and a presentation they would understand from their prospective is what I think is most important in course design.”
Scholle welcomes the idea of getting more involved, as long as there is coordination.
“The problems we have had with AAPG that were frustrating were that enrollment was kept open until the last minute,” he said. “This is a real problem for field seminar leaders who have to keep changing lodging, food and transportation arrangements,” which he says is a very time consuming and sometime costly process.
Oil companies, he adds, like to keep their options open and often have their folks register (or de-register) very late.
“Good for the industry, OK for AAPG, but very hard on instructors,” he said.
Now, about what’s important on a field seminar – Scholle, who says he would enjoy one day to teach again for AAPG, says this:
“The successful field trip will include an interesting topic, excellent outcrops or cores, one or more knowledgeable and engaging presenters, good interpersonal chemistry among participants, good lodging, food and transport, and direct applicability of the information presented to the jobs of participants.”
If you think he’s joking about that, think again.
Successful field trip leaders know that field trip participants, like Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies, march on their stomachs. That’s why participants have been known to enjoy Guadalupe Indian food in New Mexico, fresh shrimp in North Carolina or, in Montana, sweet huckleberry jam on their morning toast.
“It is actually the only direct advice I ever got from AAPG on running field conferences,” he said: “‘People forget good outcrops, but they never forget bad food.’”