Geomorphic evidence of active tectonics in the San Gorgonio Pass region of the San Andreas Fault system: an example of discovery-based research in undergraduate teaching

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Linda A Reinen, Pomona College, Claremont, CA, United States and J Douglas Yule, California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA, United States
Student-conducted research in courses during the first two undergraduate years can increase learning and improve student self-confidence in scientific study, and is recommended for engaging and retaining students in STEM fields (PCAST, 2012). At Pomona College, incorporating student research throughout the geology curriculum tripled the number of students conducting research prior to their senior year that culminated in a professional conference presentation (Reinen et al., 2006). Here we present an example of discovery-based research in Neotectonics, a second-tier course predominantly enrolling first-and second-year students; describe the steps involved in the four week project; and discuss early outcomes of student confidence, engagement and retention.

In the San Gorgonio Pass region (SGPR) in southern California, the San Andreas fault undergoes a transition from predominantly strike-slip to a complex system of faults with significant dip-slip, resulting in diffuse deformation and raising the question of whether a large earthquake on the San Andreas could propagate through the region (Yule, 2009). In spring 2014, seven students in the Neotectonics course conducted original research investigating quantifiable geomorphic evidence of tectonic activity in the SGPR. Students addressed questions of [1] unequal uplift in the San Bernardino Mountains, [2] fault activity indicated by stream knick points, [3] the role of fault style on mountain front sinuosity, and [4] characteristic earthquake slip determined via fault scarp degradation models. Students developed and revised individual projects, collaborated with each other on methods, and presented results in a public forum. A final class day was spent reviewing the projects and planning future research directions.

Pre- and post-course surveys show increases in students’ self-confidence in the design, implementation, and presentation of original scientific inquiries. 5 of 6 eligible students participated in research the following summer, the same 5 enrolled in the follow-up course for Fall 2014, and one student changed her major from the social sciences in order to conduct geology senior thesis research.

PCAST: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/pcast/docsreports

Reinen et al., CUR-Quarterly, 2006.

Yule, Geology, 2009.