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EES students sit in a stream while examining a rock

Immersion and Field Work

Immersion Is…your chance to answer questions about Earth’s dynamic history, explore how geology affects ecology and the environment, and learn how our Earth simultaneously sustains and threatens life. Through Immersion in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, you can literally get your hands dirty in the field, probe puzzles in the lab, and more.

Sample Immersion Pathways

All pathways other than Senior Honors are open to students with majors outside EES, though some relevant coursework may be encouraged or required by your Immersion Faculty Adviser, depending on the project or topic of interest. Following are examples of Immersion pathways followed by previous EES students. Many of these pathways culminate in a poster presentation at the annual Earth and Environmental Sciences Research Gala, held each January.

Research in EES. Students take EES courses in their area of interest, complete at least two semesters of research with faculty in EES, and present that research at the EES Research Gala or elsewhere.

Senior Honors in EES. EES Majors with a 3.3 major and overall GPA are eligible for this program. If a sophomore EES major anticipates completing EES Honors, they should submit an Immersion Plan for general “Research in EES” as shown above, and then change their plan to Honors in EES once admitted to the program as a junior.

Earth and Environmental Sciences students standing on a mountainside with volcanic lakes and smoke in the background
Earth and Environmental Sciences students and faculty on a field research trip overseas.

Research outside EES. Vanderbilt sponsors or can help connect students with a variety of summer research opportunities outside the EES department or the university. Examples include REU programs, NASA’s Develop program, and more. Students following this pathway usually take some EES courses in their area of interest and then complete the external research program in the summer or during a study abroad experience. The student then typically presents their research at the EES Research Gala.

Internships. Students take two EES courses in their area of interest and then complete an EES-related internship. Some internships also qualify for course credit. This pathway’s final project usually involves a paper and a summary presentation on the experience at the annual Summers in EES preview event or during the EES Career Seminar, both held each fall.

Study Abroad. Study abroad programs that involve research, internships, or living within the overseas community may qualify as Immersion in EES. Past EES students have completed relevant experiences with New Zealand’s Frontiers Abroad program, which includes research, field camp, and presentation of the research. Other EES students have included department Maymester courses and other study abroad programs as part of a larger Immersion experience.

Design-your-own. You always have the option to design a custom Immersion pathway in consultation with an adviser. Start the process by scheduling an appointment with the Office of Immersion Resources. They’ll help you plan an experience that you can bring to EES Immersion coordinator Lily Claiborne.

If you have specific questions about Immersion in EES and are not an EES major, contact Immersion Coordinator Lily Claiborne for assistance. If you’re an EES major and have specific questions about completing your Immersion requirement within the department, speak with your academic adviser.

Plan Your Immersion Experience

Other Field Work

Map of the world showing red pins on locations where the department of earth and environmental sciences conducts research, including Africa, North America, South America, the Middle East, and New Zealand
This map shows some of the locations where undergraduate students can currently conduct field work under the guidance of Earth & Environmental Sciences faculty.

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences conducts research on all seven continents, and EES undergraduate students have numerous opportunities to travel the world for field work. We provide significant support for these experiences, from advising to leading trips to funding when necessary. Research locations include Fish Tuff Canyon, Colorado; Valtellina Valley, Italy; Southern Brazil; the Middle East; Antarctica; and more.

Student Experience: Maya Sandal ’21

Maya Sandal, an Earth and Environmental Sciences student, kneels and looks closely at rocky ground on a mountainside with a grassy valley in the background
Maya Sandal ’21 in the Italian Alps

In August 2019, Maya traveled with professor Dan Morgan to Italy’s Northern Alps. The two collected rock samples to aid in research on deglaciation in the area. Maya went hiking, worked with students and professors from the local university, and learned about glacial geology. After returning to Vanderbilt, she added lab work to the experience by continuing to study the samples she’d collected in Italy.

“The mountains were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. This research trip was easily the most formative experience in my academic career, as it completely changed my perspective on geology and my plans for the future,” Maya said. “Learning in such a hands on way, with a professor who was an expert in the field and eager to answer all my questions, opened my eyes to how fascinating geology is.”

Student Experience: Jake Schenthal ’21

Jake Schenthal, an Earth and Environmental Studies student, manipulates a screen containing soil and rock samples at a field research site in the Middle East
Jake Schenthal ’21 at his field site in the Middle East

Jake received the department’s Alberstadt-Reesman-Stearns Field Studies Award, enabling him to conduct research on human-environmental interactions in the Middle East.

“I gained tremendous knowledge about how human societies interact with the surrounding ecosystem in both the Mediterranean and the surrounding valleys. I am immensely grateful to the Earth and Environmental Sciences department for developing my intellectual skills within environmental science and geology,” Jake said.