Teach the Earth > Undergraduate Research > Upper Division Strategies Collection > Undergraduate Research Across the Curriculum > Case Studies > Melding Research on the Navajo Volcanic Field into Undergraduate Curriculum to Promote Scientific Literacy
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Dec 1, 2011

Melding Research on the Navajo Volcanic Field into Undergraduate Curriculum to Promote Scientific Literacy

David Gonzales, Fort Lewis College

Mafic dike in the Navajo volcanic field exposed near Newcomb, New Mexico. Details

This module highlights the curricular design and outcomes of undergraduate research in the Department of Geosciences at Fort Lewis College (FLC), supported by an NSF-RUI project (award No. 0911290) on the Navajo volcanic field (NVF). A prime impact of this project was to support the education and career development of undergraduate students by further developing basic knowledge and skills in the context of authentic inquiry on petrologic-based research topics. Integrating research into the curriculum promoted scientific habits of mind by engaging students as "active agents" in discovery, and the creative development and testing of ideas. It also gave students a sense of ownership in the scientific process and knowledge construction. A small group of students from this course continued their research as senior research projects as part of the NSF project.



Junior- and senior-level undergraduate students.

Class size

12 undergraduate students

How the activity is situated in the course

The initial phase of this project was conducted in Igneous Petrology at FLC in 2010. Twelve students were enrolled in this course which allowed them to work as a team in collaboration with the PI, and engage in all aspects of research to further develop and hone their skills in scientific inquiry. Five students were recruited from the course to design, develop, and conduct long-term research projects on selected topics related to the genesis of magmas and volatiles related to NVF rocks.

A view of Beelzebub, a mafic plug, exposed in Todilto Park, New Mexico. Details


This course involved a small component of traditional lecture in which selected topics were discussed to provide students with a foundation to understand magmatic processes. This was complemented by a comprehensive review of the literature in which students read and discussed a spectrum of articles on Tertiary magmatism in the western United States and the NVF. Invited lectures by leading-scientists in geology provided opportunities for discussions and interaction with professional geologists. All of the students in the class engaged in the active collection of petrologic data in the field and laboratory sessions, and were introduced to the use of state-of-the art analytical tools (electron microprobe, LA ICP MS) as part of their experiences.

Five students were recruited from the course to design, develop, and conduct long-term research projects on selected petrologic topics in the NVF. This research allowed these students to engage in the challenging process of testing existing hypotheses on NVF magmatism, and developing new ideas and interpretations. The combined outcomes of these research projects provided a collection of original data which have made important contributions to our understanding of the history of the NVF. All student projects served to fulfill a mandatory senior-thesis research project and the students were required to attend professional meetings to present their results. One of the students received an award at the Cordilleran-Rocky Mountain GSA Meeting in Logan, Utah in 2011 for the best undergraduate presentation. Dissemination of the outcomes of student research into the broader geologic community allowed the students to interact as peers in their field of study.

Contributions to the NVF Database

Educational Outcomes

A Fort Lewis College undergraduate student examining a mafic dike in the Navajo volcanic field for calcite vugs to use for carbon and oxygen isotope analyses as part of his senior research project. Details
Undergraduate students involved in this research obtained and disseminated new data from NVF rocks that further tested ideas about magmatism associated with the field, and provided new insight into the genesis and history of mantle magmas and volatiles in the middle Cenozoic on the Colorado Plateau. At the same time they learned more about scientific inquiry, and further developed as professional geologists.

The insight and values that these future geoscientists gained from research experiences early in their education and careers was critical to their professional development. This process infused students with a greater understanding of science methods and activities. The integration of classroom studies with applied research has a positive impact on the scientific awareness of students which stands to impact future decision of society, and communities in which these students live.

Notes, Tips, and Logistical Considerations

Teaching Materials and Assessment


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