IU Is Everywhere

From Bloomington to Bangkok, meet members of the IU family who are acting as ambassadors for the university.

Bruce Douglas, Montana

For more than 30 years, senior lecturer Bruce Douglas has steered IU’s efforts to be a leader in the geosciences field from the university’s western homestead as director of the IU Judson Mead Geologic Field Station.

In 1945, Indiana University President Herman B Wells decided Indiana was no place to learn about geology. The limited variations of terrain in the state led Wells to believe IU needed a geological field station elsewhere that would allow students to fully experience varied geologic phenomena.

In 1948, with the help of department of geology chair Charles Frederick Deiss, IU found an idyllic valley in the Tobacco Root Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountains of Montana. There was only one problem: Montana refused to sell the land to the state of Indiana. So on Dec. 30, 1948, the land was purchased in the name of IU Treasurer J.A. Franklin and his wife, and on Dec. 31, 1948, the Franklins assigned the deed to the Trustees of Indiana University. The 60 acres cost $300 -- $5 per acre.

Today, land in this valley goes for about $1,000 per acre, and the director of the IU Judson Mead Geologic Field Station is senior lecturer Bruce Douglas. Each summer, Douglas leads a group of about 65 students on an eight-week venture to the field station for the course G429: Field Geology in the Rocky Mountains. Most of these students are pursuing a Bachelor of Science in geology from IU, but each summer the class includes students from up to 30 other universities.

From the top: IU's Judson Mead Geologic Field Station is located in the Tobacco Root Mountains in Montana; senior lecturer and director of the station Bruce Douglas leads about 65 students to the station each summer; the station is 40 miles southeast of Butte, Montana, and 65 miles northwest of Bozeman, Montana. Photos courtesy of IU's Judson Mead Geologic Field Station

"IU is considered one of the premier programs," Douglas said. "At a recent national conference, the head recruiter for Exxon Mobil stood near the IU geology recruitment booth telling interested students that they should attend the program."

The prestige of its field program is what drew Douglas to IU's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, nearly 32 years ago. He and his wife, Lisa Pratt, now professor emerita of earth and atmospheric sciences at IU Bloomington and planetary protection officer at NASA, were living in Denver when IU recruited them to join the faculty. They were eager to join the large department that would allow each of them to pursue their respective research interests and were impressed by the field station. In fact, Douglas visited the station before he ever made it to campus.

"We knew working for IU would allow us to keep a foot in the West, which was important to us," Douglas said. "Since I moved here 32 years ago, I've never spent a summer in Indiana."

Despite spending nearly three decades of summers in Montana, Douglas said he never gets bored. Each year, a new set of students brings new perspective, requiring him to use new approaches to teach scientific research methods, problem solving, effective communication and other skills need for a successful career in the geological sciences.

"I love to be surprised by the growth of different individuals," Douglas said. "Some students have already been in field programs or have spent summers as field assistants for graduate students, while others have never been west of the Mississippi or even worn a backpack. To see the steep learning curve that they undergo is very rewarding."

The challenges students face during their eight weeks out west often cultivates a bond that lasts long after their return to Bloomington. Many go on to work together, hire each other and plan reunions. There are currently nearly 10,000 alumni of the program, many who donate generously to fund student scholarships and new facilities on the station.

Douglas said many of these alumni give back because they feel IU's program helped them succeed professionally. In fact, he said, it's hard to find a geologist working in the field who has never heard of IU.

"If you talk to 10 geologists, six may have gone to the program, and the rest would definitely know about it."