Geology professor Ellen Cowan becomes Geological Society of America fellow


courtesy of Cowan

Connor Beatty

International geologists gathered in Indianapolis at the annual Geological Society of America fellowship meeting to induct new members. App State’s Ellen Cowan, professor of geological and environmental sciences, was one of 89 inductees this year.

The GSA Honorary Fellow Award is presented to an international geoscientist who is at the forefront of geoscience innovation and promoting environmental awareness by linking science and society or otherwise making outstanding contributions to science, according to the GSA website.

Cowan’s research on the geologic record of glaciation on the sea floor has taken her to many places, including Alaska and Iceland, with undergraduate students to understand how glaciers have interacted with the sea.

To understand how glaciers deposited their records, Cowan and her colleagues have collected marine sediment cores. Any place on land that has glaciers is missing that record. This allows them to understand what the climate is like, Cowan said.

“In January, I am going to Antarctica to continue research into glaciation as part of an off-campus scholarly assignment,” Cowan said. “I can only go when it is the top of the summer season in the southern hemisphere.”

Cowan said she and her colleagues are expected to work on a non-stop international drilling ship from Chile to retrieve data on glaciation.

“It could very well be that I would have to work from 12 o’clock to midnight, but in Antarctica, it is as bright as day at 3 in the morning,” Cowan said.

Members are nominated by existing fellows in recognition of their distinguished contributions to the geosciences, according to GSA. Cowan was nominated by her longtime friend and coworker Fred Webb Jr., retired professor of geology emeritus at App State.

Webb played an instrumental role in hiring Cowan by flying her down from Illinois, where she graduated with a doctorate from Northern Illinois University. Although Webb and Cowan did not conduct research together, Webb knows well her many good qualities.

“She has a very pleasant personality. She is able to give insight that is considerate and tactful to students about solving problems and has a great way of communicating ideas to others,” Webb said. “Students loved her and they still do.”

Webb, a fellow himself, submitted a nomination letter for her to the GSA committee.

“Ellen Cowan is an exemplary geoscience teacher and researcher who has achieved an outstanding record of inspiring and mentoring students by actively involving them in her research projects,” Webb said in the nomination letter.

Cowan said it is a great honor to be recognized by colleagues and to be in the presence of many renowned geoscientists. She said she is enthusiastic about her future projects and research endeavors.

“She is a wonderful person with a very good sense of humor,” Webb said. “She should have been a fellow 10 years ago.”

Story by Connor Beatty 

Photo courtesy of Ellen Cowan

Featured photo caption: Ellen Cowan on her research trip to Alaska.