Monday, April 13, 2020

Announcing the Wayne and Helen Ranney Geoscience Educator Scholarship at Northern Arizona University

I have had the pleasure of traveling with many readers of this blog on geologic adventures across the globe, from Arizona to Zimbabwe, from Antarctica to Zion, or from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the mountains of Patagonia, South America. I thank all of you for your support and interest in my work during these past 45 years! In this post I have exciting news about a scholarship that my wife and I are funding to further more geology careers in this type of work.

Sunrise on the 12 Ma laccolith at Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

As my work has blossomed and grown, many geologists and/or guides have asked to me how they might follow in my footsteps or perhaps even emulate my career. Unfortunately, I have to tell them that this is not as easily achieved as one would hope for. It requires being away from home a lot and it is not always easy to "break in" to the field. Thus, it is not conducive to a traditional family or career life. When I started out, there were no role models for this type of career adventure and in fact, I had no idea it was going to be a career! I just constantly said "Yes" to any jobs that came my way gradually cobbling together an international traveling gig that includes writing, guiding, and lecturing. Luckily, I did not have a family or kids to support that would encumber my choices.

Teaching geology to participants on a geology-themed 
river trip on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon, 2017

Still however, if I were granted one wish to somehow advance this type of career for others, it would be to help future Earth scientists learn about such career opportunities in sharing the joys of geologic thought with non-scientists. Modern life begs for ways to make deeper connections with this wildly beautiful and exotic planet. And while I've learned that geology is just another word for scenery, it is also another way to express sustainability, since taking the long view only helps to encourage a more proper use (and reuse) of natural resources. Not a day goes by that I do not wish that more geologists took an active role in speaking up about geology to a much wider audience. 

The Antarctic Peninsula where I have made 27 trips as a geologic lecturer

It is only appropriate then to mention a few of my fellow geologists who consistently contribute  their time and effort to advance a wider public understanding of geology. If you have not yet subscribed to the Facebook page of the Arizona Geological Survey please do so. The site is guided by  Michael Conway of the AzGS. Also, Dr. Karl Karlstrom and Dr. Laura Crossey of the University off New Mexico conceived and developed the Trail of Time at Grand Canyon National Park. Many thousands of visitors to the Park become enthralled by this linear representation of time, that sequentially tells the story of Grand Canyon's geologic history while strolling along a scenic Rim trail at the edge of the canyon. A shout-out also goes to Dr. Steve Semken at Arizona State University who has developed online virtual field trips for all to enjoy. Check out one of Dr. Semken's interactive virtual field trips here. Finally, Muhammed Qasim Mahmood administers the Learning Geology Facebook page that has outreach to literally thousands of geology enthusiasts around the world. All of these individuals and others provide continuing inspiration to me to further the outreach of geology.

Dr. Steve Semken on the Trail of Time, 
Grand Canyon National Park

My two geology degrees from Northern Arizona University (B.S., 1980; M.S., 1988) launched my rather unconventional career in informal geoscience education, defined as geologic instruction at any level of learning occurring outside of a formal classroom setting. After leaving NAU in 1988, I worked as a river and trail guide in Grand Canyon (which is how I supported myself in graduate school), which ultimately led to other far-reaching work assignments around the globe. These were completed with Lindlblad Expeditions and Smithsonian Journeys. I’ve now traveled to, and lectured in almost 90 countries, all focused on the geology of those distant and quite scenic places.

Flying over the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls, the international boundary
between Zimbabwe (bottom) and Zaire (above)

As my career has gradually evolved into more writing and less traveling, my wife Helen and I desired to help current NAU geology undergrads to consider a similar career choice. We both recognize the inherent value of young geologists being exposed to as many diverse geologic features as possible, as well as the huge need in our discipline to develop knowledgeable and effective science communicators. We cherish and honor the wealth of modern geologic data, but lament that much of it is known by so few of our fellow citizens. We believe that geologic thought is empowering and transformative and want to encourage future geo-scientists to develop the tools that will allow them to effectively share their passion of geology with others.

With Helen at Grand Canyon's South Rim, 2019

This is why we created the Wayne and Helen Ranney Geoscience Educator Scholarship at NAU. We have personally committed a gift of $25,000 that will be fully funded by the year 2022. Interest from the fund will be used to support an upper level geology undergrad at NAU who will pursue some level of geoscience educator career path. Imagine the benefit to a geology student who will be able to partake in a Colorado River raft trip in Grand Canyon, or will serve as a Geologist in Residence at Grand Canyon National Park. Such are some of the possibilities that we envision for this award.

We have already funded the first two years of this five year giving commitment. And a very generous four-figure donation from one of my past alumni has allowed the principle to grow even more!  

If you would be interested in helping future geo-scientists prepare for public outreach in geology, please contribute to this fund directly at the link above.

The flow path is easy and will be obvious from there. Helen and I greatly appreciate any support you can give to this fund! Remember, your gift will live in perpetuity with only the interest used to support future Earth Scientists who engage in public outreach of geology to our society! Thank you!

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River


  1. Congratulations to you and Helen. That's a wonderful thing you are doing.

  2. Great post! Your fascinating background, beautiful photos and the announcement that you and your wife are funding a scholarship are all impressive and inspiring. Thank you!


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