Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Fostering community in Earth

Main content start
Aaron Steelquist hiking
(Photo credit: Aaron Steelquist)

Aaron Steelquist

PhD Student
Geological Sciences

April 19, 2019

One of the only things that Aaron Steelquist remembers from grade school science classes was a field trip to the North Cascades in Washington state. It was the experience of physically seeing what he was learning about that made everything click into place. “Studying Earth science is thinking in three-dimensions, plus adding the factor of time. It’s all a series of logic puzzles...but ones that are easiest to understand while observing the phenomenon in-person.” This passion stayed with him as he went to college, so choosing to study geology was a natural fit. “I love that I can see rocks, which are everywhere, and use them to learn something about a part of the planet’s history.”

Steelquist does much of his current field work in Utah and Arizona, where he spends field days collecting rock samples that help him to understand how rivers have shaped the famous features of the Colorado Plateau and conversely, how rocks have shaped the rivers in the arid region throughout time. One of the best parts of his field site? “The Colorado Plateau is a fantastic natural laboratory because it is relatively simple, geologically. Everything lies pretty flat across large areas, so you can really observe the physics of surface processes more easily,” he says. “I don’t always get to be in the field. I spend a lot of time in the lab and at a computer building models of my field site. Doing field work reminds me why I study what I do.”

Steelquist also enjoys the sense of community that comes with being an Earth scientist. “When you’re in the field, you always have to have a field assistant. Those are the people you go to for company and expertise in the field, but they’re also the people you go to for questions about life beyond the research.” Not long after beginning his PhD at Stanford, Steelquist got involved with the Stanford Earth Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC) which provides community-building and advocacy services to graduate students from all departments and programs within the School. Steelquist is currently serving as co-chair for the body. It’s good practice. With aspirations to stay in academia, Steelquist is using his time at Stanford to learn how to foster community amongst his peers that transcends the bounds of the research. “Our fields are moving away from the individual, and more towards working in a collaborative and interdisciplinary spirit with people who think in different ways.”