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Faculty-led trip to Iceland offers students geology credits

The class of geology professors Brian Zimmer and Scott Marshall in Iceland last year. The professors will be taking their students to Iceland again this year.
The class of geology professors Brian Zimmer and Scott Marshall in Iceland last year. The professors will be taking their students to Iceland again this year.

For the second year in a row, Appalachian State University geology professors are taking students on a trip to Iceland the end of July through the beginning of August.

Geology lecturer Brian Zimmer and associate geology professor Scott Marshall plan to take 12 students. The trip will give student participants up to six course credits – four in Geology and two optional credits in Effective Leadership and Group Development in International Expeditions.

Zimmer said the trip is very geology intensive, but the first eight days of the trip will include sightseeing and frequent stops to various tourist attractions.

“The trip has two parts – the first part is with a vehicle, so a bus or large van – and we’ll travel around the southern part of Iceland and see volcanoes and glaciers,” Zimmer said. “We’ll go on a lagoon boat ride, go to an island off the southern coast where a town was buried in an eruption in 1973.”

The second half of the trip, the remaining 6 days, involves camping and backpacking through volcanic highlands, Zimmer said.

The budget for the trip is $3,750 per attendee, which covers airfare and in-country expenses.

“That covers bus hire, food, the different tours, ferry costs, and for the glacial hike, we have to hire guides because I prefer to have somebody who does it on a regular basis,” Zimmer said. “Iceland is a fairly expensive country, but we can do pretty well with this group trip. We’ll get a lot of bang for your buck.”

Zimmer said the curriculum for the course is very experiential.

“If we’re talking about lava tubes, we’ll go to a lava tube,” Zimmer said. “Each student is responsible for writing one chapter of our field guide. We’ll take them to different places and give insights that way, and also journaling, that’s part of it.”

Marshall said the year before the last trip they took students, he and Zimmer went to Iceland to plan out the trip and ended up making minimal changes the following year.

“The year before we went to plan it out, so it was a practice run the first year,” Marshall said. “We shortened the hike, the last day was brutal, something like 15 miles. No way that we’d ever have students where everybody could do that, it’s a long walk to us, but there’s people not used to that physical activity and part of the experience is being physically challenged in an environment where you can’t quit because there’s no where to go.”

Conditions while in Iceland can be extreme, Marshall said.

“When we’re there the temperatures typically vary,” Marshall said. “We had one day last year that was in the mid 60s and then we had one night where it hailed and snowed and it was probably 20-25 degrees, definitely below freezing, and that was in August or the end of July.”

Zimmer said he is excited to return to Iceland as he believes it is a magical and beautiful place.

“If there is something in life you can never have too much of, it’s perspective, so I want students to get a whole new perspective,” Zimmer said. “These people constantly live in the shadow of major geologic hazards, and the people thrive in this environment and do so in a sustainable way.”

Marshall said he has never seen a student on the trip look bored.

“I want them to get an experience where they’re taken out of their comfort zone because I think you can learn a lot about yourself when you’re in a situation that makes you uncomfortable,” Marshall said. “When you’re in a classroom some might think it’s boring, but when you’re standing on a glacier, if you don’t think that’s interesting, you should check your pulse.”

Zimmer said there are a few more available spots for students to still sign up for the trip.

“This is an introductory level course that is designed for the general Appalachian community,” Zimmer said. “We do have some geology majors that go on it, but it’s open for everybody.”

STORY: Nicole Caporaso, Senior News Reporter

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