Written By Rashonda Stubblefield
Applying to college is never a fun or relaxing process, especially when your goal is to secure a funded position in a physical sciences graduate program (a master’s or a doctorate). Therefore, planning must take place several years ahead of time.
There are so many aspects that come into play in a successful application: You must have a high undergraduate grade point average, solid letters of recommendation, and a dynamic personal statement. Then, of course, there are a myriad of other activities and experiences that can make your application stand out, which is imperative in our day and age, with so many people applying for very few spots.
Field work is an important part of your experience for earth and environmental sciences. This is where Blueprint Earth comes into play, and it’s no accident that it’s the perfect addition to your resume. The Mission Mojave project gives young scientists a hands-on learning experience that is truly priceless.
I first heard of BE through a call for volunteer researchers that was forwarded from the geosciences department chair at California State University Northridge. I was just starting my senior year as a geology undergrad, and I wanted to get more experience in my field. I visited blueprintearth.org and was impressed by the scope of their goals. Their plans were lofty but seemed well thought out, and the fieldwork looked educational and fun.
I went on my first field season with BE in October 2015. I immediately felt like I was with my “people” after meeting Jess, her husband/co-founder Carlos Peláez, and a few returning volunteers. The experience was the perfect combination of challenging fieldwork and fun camaraderie. We also had a National Public Radio (NPR) journalist and photographer come out to the desert with us!
The BE Mission Mojave experience was much like a weekend field trip in a geology class. We were introduced to the field gear and what types of observations we would be making. I was happy to find that I would finally learn how to use a GPS device to do more precise mapping of spatial data. This data would then be uploaded into Google Earth and ArcGIS to be collected and analyzed. My minor is in Geographic Information Science (GIS), so I was very eager to work with the raw data.
I had thought of myself as more of a computer geologist than a field geologist, because I had so many experiences of feeling rushed and frustrated in the field components of my coursework. I knew I had to improve my skills and confidence as a researcher in the field. The pace and atmosphere of Mission Mojave was very different than the field experiences I’d had previously. I felt more relaxed and was able to make hundreds of my own observations and theories. I found the whole process exciting in general.
I loved the experience so much that I did another field season with BE last January. Then it was time for graduate school applications! I already had my three letter writers in mind, but if one of them had fallen through I would have had no problem asking Jess for a letter of recommendation. Even though I was one of many volunteers, it was clear to me that Jess is such an observant and caring person that she could write a caring and thoughtful letter tailored to who I am as an individual.
I believe my volunteer work with BE was a great asset on my resume. Geology professors almost always have some component of fieldwork in their research, so experience working outdoors, camping, and getting good data looks great (and shows that you have the grit to handle inclement or uncomfortable weather!).
In February 2016 I received the exciting news that I had been working so hard for—I was accepted to North Carolina State University's Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences department as a master’s candidate!
I have a feeling that my work with BE helped to put me at the top of the application pile. There are few opportunities like BE out there for undergraduates, and I believe that Jess’ work will inspire other organizations to follow suit.