Lauren Heerschap: M Sc, Geoscience Educator and Inventer
- Semester abroad at Jerusalem University College, Israel in Fall 1999
- B.S. in Geology and Theology from Wheaton College in 2000
- M.Sc. in Geology (Tectonic Geomorphology) from University of Colorado at Boulder in 2003
- Assisted with a geo-archeology study and dig at Tel el-Borg in the Sinai Peninsula between undergrad and grad school in Spring 2001
- Worked for Colorado Geological Survey in Denver, CO on earthquake hazards and land use from 2003-2006
- Taught a semester of geology and outdoor education in Zermatt, Switzerland in Fall 2004
- Worked for Oso Energy exploring for unconventional natural gas in Durango, CO from 2005-2006
- Served as Geosciences Lab Coordinator then Lecturer at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO from 2007-2016
- Invented the Brunton Axis Transit, a new type of geologic compass and associated methods, which became available in Summer 2016
How I got to where I am, although I’m not sure where that is…
Although I see myself as an ambitious individual, I have never really had a clear career path in view or specific set of life goals in mind. Rather, I seem to have arrived at present through a series of decisions, serendipitous opportunities, and an ever-changing skill set that is God’s hand at work in my life even when I don’t realize it. The common threads weaving my career and life together have been God’s faithfulness towards me, which hasn’t always been reciprocated, my desire to do what I enjoy and not necessarily what will be successful, and my follow-through on ideas that won’t leave me alone.
Growing up in Texas and New Mexico, I was outdoors a lot and always collected things: rocks, fossils, flowers, and the occasional live snake (always a parent-pleaser!). We went on a lot of camping trips as a family, and one of my earliest geology memories was when we found some quartz crystals sticking out of a lakeshore in Oklahoma. When we dug deeper, which became the day’s main activity, we unearthed a pretty impressive set of crystals that we all still have on our shelves. (I’m not sure how legal this collecting was, however, so don’t tell anyone!) My comfort and enjoyment in being outdoors definitely grew out of my childhood camping experiences, so much that I remember hoping that I someday lived and worked out of a tent for a good portion of my life. That rather unambitious goal has, in fact, come true because I teach field geology for a few weeks each summer out of a tent and I also spend many weekends and summer months on climbing/camping trips with my husband!
I loved collecting rocks and minerals outside, but I also spent a lot of my childhood income at gem and mineral shows when they came to town. From an early age I was awed by the colors and shapes of different minerals, how light passed through them or reflected off their surfaces, and how some such as my favorite mineral labradorite might initially look plain and boring but if you move them in the light they have a remarkable play of colors. I remember some of my early theological ruminations about how incredible it was that God had created so many beautiful things such as minerals and flowers, many of which would never be seen by humans. He created for His own enjoyment and not just for ours.
My sixth grade teacher and her husband took my mom and me up our first “14er”, a mountain whose summit is over 14,000 feet. I marveled at the alpine flowers on the hike up and down, and at the summit I couldn’t believe how many other mountains were visible 360 degrees around me in Southwest Colorado. Thus began my ongoing love for mountains and being in the mountains, whether it’s for climbing, geology, teaching, skiing, or just sitting and watching a sunrise or sunset. Mountains have been the focus of my geological research and recreation, central to my relationships, and will always be a requirement for where I live in the world.
It was peculiar, then, to find myself as an undergraduate student at Wheaton College in the flatlands of Illinois, surrounded by big lakes, wetlands, and cornfields. This is a testament to God helping shape my decision-making! I went to college thinking I would pursue a pre-med course of action, aiming to be a missionary doctor. That wasn’t a strong calling, but one I thought would use my talents and perhaps my desire to live in a tent. But after I took a geology course my first freshman semester with Jeff Greenberg, I was hooked. I really enjoyed learning about geology and the way it made me see the world through a new set of lenses. Back then, I didn’t think about possible career paths in geology or potential income or where in the world it would allow me to live. I just knew I had fun learning it, and that’s what drove my decision to major in geology. I also majored in theology, since at Wheaton a lot of Bible/theology credits are required anyway, and I had enjoyed my first few courses.
A lot of people, especially from within Wheaton and my church, found geology and theology a surprising and conflicting combination of subjects to study and/or they joked about how I was going to spend my career investigating the stone tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were written… But with each course, passing year, and life experience I have found that my knowledge of geology and the sciences strengthens my love and appreciation for our Creator, and my theological training helps add breadth to my understanding of the world and humility to my endeavors to further understand it. Just as geological knowledge adds new layers of depth and wonder to a landscape or planet as a whole, theological knowledge lends perspective on human attempts to understand God and interpret his Word and actions. Both geology and theology are human endeavors to better understand their subjects, and I have found that the deeper you go into either, the more you realize how little we know! There are many different ways of understanding our world. Too often, scientists think they have the only tools for properly unraveling the mysteries of the universe, and that anything involving faith or miracles isn’t valid. Similarly, Christians too often think that science conflicts with Scripture so it shouldn’t contribute to their worldview or toolkit and should therefore be ignored or not taught. Without writing an entire book here in this paragraph, I’ll summarize by stating that for Christians it seems to all boil down to how we interpret Genesis 1 (what genre of literature is it: poetry or history?) and for scientists it pivots upon whether you leave room for the supernatural and things that cannot be proven through science (although in reality, the scientific method cannot prove; it functions through dis-proving!).
My time at Wheaton also reshaped what I saw as missions work. I had thought that the best way to serve and follow God was to become a missionary in a foreign land, learning new languages and cultures, contributing to communities through medical healing or Bible translating or church planting. But I gradually learned that there are many ways to serve God on the front lines, and that often those fronts are closer than we think. The modern scientific community contains perhaps the greatest concentration of nonbelievers around the world. To reach this community, you also need to learn a new language and become familiar with its culture. To contribute in meaningful ways takes time and dedication, patience and sometimes serendipity. To be heard requires that you gain respect within the community, which can come in the form of major breakthroughs and significant publications, but can also be gained through being a dedicated teacher and mentor, exhibiting honesty and integrity in research, and fostering community in a largely individualistic and competitive arena.
Largely because of how much I enjoyed geology field camp in the Black Hills between my junior and senior years, I decided to go to graduate school in geology to continue the fun. After a cool geo-archeology opportunity in Egypt that actually did combine my double major knowledge, I excitedly move to Boulder, CO where I could enjoy living near mountains and studying them! CU Boulder had been my first choice of schools because a particular project had caught my attention: investigating a strange scoop taken out of the Taiwanese mountains which exactly corresponded to the huge fault scarp that had been produced in the big 1999 earthquake there. Could erosion be causing earthquakes? This project had the perfect combination of exotic travel, lots of field work, a mountain focus with a societally-relevant hazard, and poisonous snakes! I was definitely challenged by every part of the project and grad school as a whole, but I loved almost every minute of it. Going to grad school in the sciences usually involves financial support, and mine was in the form of working as a Teaching Assistant during most of my two years there. With that support, tuition was waived, and I scraped by in expensive Boulder, CO with a very measly salary. But the additional responsibility of teaching was actually life-changing for me, as I discovered that I enjoy the process of teaching geology more than I enjoy research and publication endeavors. Through teaching introductory courses and field trips at CU Boulder, I gradually understood my calling. It never came as a lightning bolt or a booming voice but rather a realization that if I enjoy something and am good at it and feel excited about doing it for the rest of my life, then perhaps that is God’s voice urging me down a certain path.
And that’s the path I have been on since grad school, with a few diversions, stops, and experimental turns along the way. I was fortunate to get to spend the past nine years at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO teaching geology and GIS (Geographic Information Systems). I got to interact with students from many majors and walks of life in my introductory and GIS courses, and I got to know our geology majors through repeated courses with them. My ultimate goal, especially for those only taking one or two geology courses, was to have my students walk away with a new set of lenses for seeing the world, just as I remember experiencing after my first geology course. Being an educator allows students to get to know me, and when they learn that I am a Christian AND a geologist, that often leads to some great discussions and questions. The same goes for my colleagues and other people I work with in the greater geologic community; being a light in the scientific world IS a form of missions work. While I may not be openly evangelizing to my students or coworkers, I am sharing my life with them, hopefully serving as a role model, and also perhaps standing out as a bit of an enigma that gets people thinking about science and religion, faith and reason, and seeing that it is possible to use both to attempt to understand this amazing world and its Creator!