Geosciences Department: Small major, big opportunities

By Nick Erickson, Staff writer

The Geosciences Department has less than 40 students, making it one of the most overlooked majors at Murray State, Robin Q. Zhang, chairwoman of the department, said. There are numerous opportunities students unfamiliar with the department are said to be missing out on.

For students who are interested in the department, there are four Bachelor of Science tracks they can concentrate on: earth science, environmental geology, geoarchaeology and geographic information science (GIS). A handful of students from the department are adamant about spreading word of what it has to offer.

Mallory Gerzan, junior from Madisonville, Kentucky, started her freshman year as a pre-vet major but said her switch to an environmental geology major came easy.

“Once I took an earth science course, I fell in love with it and switched the next semester,” Gerzan said.

Gerzan said the major is a challenge but has come with many benefits, such as her current job in the Sediment Soil Human lab in the Blackburn Science Building.

“My classes are fun, the faculty are nice and I’ve met some of my best friends through the department,” Gerzan said. “What more could I ask for?”

Molly Karnes, junior from Mount Vernon, Illinois, fell for the geoscience department similarly to Gerzan, but said her heart belongs to earth science.

“I started as a chemistry major,” Karnes said. “I feel like earth science has more application with what I want to do, seeing chemistry applied in the environment and life.”

For students looking into the more technological aspect of geoscience, Travis West, senior from Somerset, Kentucky, says that GIS is for them.

Originally a physics major, West now studies GIS and loves how versatile it can be.

“I’ve always been in geology and studying other cultures,” West said. “I figured I could use GIS as a tool to help decipher the world’s secrets.”

West said there is collaboration with other non-geoscience departments, including the agriculture and biology departments.

“One day you’ll be installing solar panels on roofs,” West said. “The next day, you’ll be examining rice production in Yemen.”

Gerzan, Karnes and West come from different areas of the geoscience department, but conclusively agree there is untapped potential within it.

“We might be a small department, but we are given a lot of opportunities,” Gerzan said. “One might think our size would affect our funding, but we actually have plenty of it.”

Gerzan said one of the students in the department got the chance to travel to Kenya last year.

“That’s just one example of the opportunities people in this department have,” he said.

The three also said because of the closeness of department members, it is less competitive than others.

“Everyone seems to love one another and always willing to help,” Karnes said.

Recently, the department held its first GeoFest, allowing students interested in geology to participate in a variety of activities, from examining fossils to touring the department itself.

As for upcoming programs, Gerzan said a new class will be offered in the fall semester. The class “Geosciences and Alcohol” will show “how geology relates to the production of alcohol across the world.”

To any student interested in enriching their knowledge of geography, culture and the earth itself, students may contact Zhang at

Photos by Jenny Rohl/The News