Fossil digging, mountain climbing part of COM science education

As part of the College of the Mainland Biology Club’s conservation project, co-advisor Sheena Abernathy, left, and COM students Kathryn Day, center and Ariel Malmburg grew native plants to transplant to the Rookery Islands. Native birds nest in the island

From the heights of Hill Country domes to pristine coastal habitats, science education at College of the Mainland goes beyond the classroom.

The COM Geology and Biology Clubs regularly explore natural resources, volunteer with ecological projects and learn from leaders in the field.

Recently the Geology Club traveled to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area northwest of Austin to explore granite domes. They also dug for fossils in the Austin area.

"We found different fossils, gastropods [snails] and many oysters," said COM student Sarah Barcomb. "It was fun to get out the fossils. You had to use this chisel-like hammer and lightly hit the rocks to get them out. We did a good bit of hiking and saw some amazing views and many different rock types."

While the Geology Club climbed the peaks, the Biology Club this semester trekked to a coastal beach to observe a nearly untouched ecosystem.

"It's a pristine habitat still left on Galveston Island," said professor Sheena Abernathy, an advisor to the COM Biology Club. "Students got to taste edible plants. We got to learn a little about coastal prairie and do a lot of volunteer work, weeding and planting."

From Adopt-a-Beach cleanups each semester to growing native plants to transplant to an Audubon Texas preserve, the Biology Club doesn't just learn about ecosystems - they help preserve them.

"In December students went out to Rookery Islands to plant cuttings that we've been growing for the last year. There were more than 100 plants," said Abernathy. "It's going to keep going as long as Audubon Texas needs us to."

The Geology Club also volunteers to take science regularly to K.E. Little Elementary School where they recently set up three stations of hands-on geology activities, including one where students made sedimentary rock from gravel and modeling clay.

"The last station was a mineral station where the kids could see how everyday stuff like toothpaste and makeup is made up of minerals from the earth," said Barcomb. "It gave the students a brief introduction into geology."

The activities plus lecture series with experts from organizations from University of Texas Medical Branch to University of Houston show both COM students and elementary students the possibilities of careers in science.

"They can be geologists and study earthquakes and do hazard assessments to mitigate risks. They can go into the oil and gas industry. They can be researchers or educators, they can even study other planets," said Veronica Sanchez, COM Geology Club advisor. There is no shortage of opportunities."

For Biology Club president Kathryn Day, the rewards are immediate.

"Joining club activities and working on projects that help the community encourages me to meet new people and different organizations who have the same passion I do, which is helping the community.”

Recently the Geology Club traveled to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area near Austin to dig for fossils. From left, Sarah Barcomb, Karen Banks and Marquitta Lacy.

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