March 9, 2022

Students in Shawnee State University’s Geology program recently took a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee over Spring Break. Students Layne Williams, Alexander Chan, Millard Fluty, and Blake Smalley were led by geology professor Dr. Kurt Shoemaker on the trip where the students explored the metamorphic geology of the region. During the experience, students were able to utilize and apply knowledge they had been learning throughout their courses.

students pictured in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Geology students pictured in Great Smoky Mountains National Park just below Newfound Gap at the Tennessee slope of the mountains.

For Layne Williams (Hometown: Portsmouth, Ohio), it was special being able to use the skills and knowledge she has learned at SSU in a hands-on experience in the geology field.

“We observed a fault line and identified it as a thrust fault,” she said. “Calling upon previous knowledge and integrating it into information we learned along the trip was fun. It made concepts click into place.”

When recalling her favorite part of the trip, Williams enjoyed seeing the differences in the geology of the region.

“I really enjoyed seeing how the degree of metamorphism throughout the region changed – going from very low grade around Pigeon Forge to high grade metamorphic rocks in Winding Stair Gap as we traveled,” she said. “Getting hands-on experience via identifying and classifying these rocks was awesome. Viewing samples in labs or reading descriptions in textbooks is not the same as going to the place of origin and getting to see the whole picture.”

Williams, a freshman in the program, chose to major in Geology because she has always been curious about the science, enjoying the outdoors since she was a child.

“I have been interested in rocks and minerals since I was a kid,” she said. “I was always curious about Earth’s processes. I love going out in nature and truly getting to understand what is going on with our world – there is so much to learn.”

The students also visited Cumberland Gap and Pine Mountain, stopping along the way to visit the thrust fault.

“The Copper Creek Thrust Fault was extremely interesting because the older Cambrian rock – that had thrusted upwards onto younger Ordovician rock – was so severely deformed,” she said. “Getting to see a fault line in real life was such a cool experience.”

Shawnee State University’s Bachelor of Science in Geology is designed for students seeking careers in earth science, environmental science, or entry into graduate programs in geology or environmental science. The curriculum is heavily focused on experiential and field-based learning with many opportunities to engage with faculty on geologic research. To learn more about the program, visit