Geological and Environmental Sciences K-12 Science Education Strengthened by Community Partnership – Advice Eating

Vulcan Materials, the nation’s largest manufacturer of aggregates with a local office in Boone, NC, has donated over $61,000 to the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Appalachian State University and has supported the department in many ways for decades.

“They have truly donated thousands of dollars in personnel and equipment to make Appalachian projects and growth a reality,” said Dr. Andrew Heckert, Professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

In 2018-19, the Appalachian Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences reached over 5,000 schoolchildren through outreach events at over 34 schools and organizations with support from over 50 undergraduate students. The department has received five outreach-specific grants ranging from $1,500 to $62,000 with a projected total of $100,000 for the year. Department faculty and students are committed to strengthening K-12 science education by fostering partnerships with schools, training teachers, engaging students, highlighting faculty research and promotional program offerings.

Teachers who attended one of the Rockin’ NC workshops, where they visited the Boone Vulcan quarry to learn about field trips for their classes. Photo by Marta Toran.

Partnership with Vulcan Materials
Vulcan was a founding sponsor of the Fred Webb Jr. Outdoor Geology Laboratory. Of the first 30 specimens, 11 came from volcanic facilities in three different states, and they have since contributed more. Not only did they donate specimens, they shipped these multi-ton rocks to the Appalachian campus. Boone Quarry has been instrumental in helping the department expand and redesign the rock garden over the years since its inception, as their pallet truck literally does all the heavy lifting.

From 2007 to 2010, they contributed a total of $20,000 to “Geology, Economics, Mining, and Society” exhibits at Rankin Science, the building that houses the department on campus, which is why a tire from one of their trucks is featured prominently is the hallway on the first floor. In 2017-2018 they donated $21,500 to the Geobago and the “Rockin’ NC” Professional Development Workshop for K-12 teachers. This year, they donated an additional $20,000 to fund two more Rockin’ NC teacher workshops with the goal of expanding the geographic reach of teacher education. The workshops will be led by department faculty and students and will be held at Kaleideum North in Winston-Salem and Discovery Place in Charlotte. The funds will also help the department continue to offer free geobago visits to regional schools.

“Our partnership with the Appalachian Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences is a perfect example of how we can leverage our resources and products with Appalachian’s education and research talent to reach thousands of students each year,” said Denise Hallett, Community and Government Relations Manager with Vulkan. “We have a long history of hosting students for quarry tours at several of our 22 North Carolina locations. Students receive a live lesson in earth and environmental sciences while seeing a quarry in action that provides vital building materials for their community. You can also see how Vulcan manages the land through programs such as the NC Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife and Industry Together certification and conservation programs with the Wildlife Habitat Council. The Geobago and “Rockin’ NC” Teacher Workshops in Appalachian are a perfect connection between teachers, students, the community and Vulkan. We are excited to see how these programs evolve in the future.”

Anton Hengst, Senior Double Major in Geological and Environmental Sciences and Mathematics, helps a student with the microscope in the geobago during Fossil Day at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC Photo by Marta Toran.

Community outreach tools
The Gebago is a mobile earth and environmental science teaching laboratory with the ability to teach water testing (field tests only, such as pH and conductivity), mineral identification and fossils. After the College of Arts and Sciences provided seed funding to package the Gebago with a graphic design and restore it for use, Vulcan contributed funds to upgrade the interior with microscopes, computers, and a mini-laboratory, as well as modular storage for a variety of Equip items to do hands-on activities tied to NC standards. The Gebago mobile lab, overseen by Marta Toran, the outreach coordinator, and students from the department, has traveled far and wide to Durham, Gastonia, Hiddenite and other locations this school year and has been featured at a variety of local events, including the North Carolina Science Festival.

“Because we have the Gebago, we can use it for other support such as the EPA environmental education grant Marta received for the Water on the Move K-12 hydrology education program and the American Geophysical Union Centennial Grant for the PYES ( Image Yourself as an Earth Scientist) outreach project,” says Heckert.

Rockin’ NC educational materials were developed with support from Vulcan Materials Company. These learning modules are designed to provide educators with ideas for teaching about the rock cycle and important minerals of North Carolina in an engaging, interactive way. A Rockin’ NC classroom kit includes: an educational board game, rock samples, everyday minerals, mineral testing kits, Legos® to show how minerals form in igneous and sedimentary rocks, samples of North Carolina geological resources for various classroom activities, Modeling clay and a lesson plan booklet for the unit.

The first Rockin’ NC workshop for fourth grade teachers was held in August 2018. Twenty participants from ten different North Carolina counties, some traveling up to three hours, attended the one-day training opportunity at Appalachian. The event was hosted by Marta Toran, Dr. Andrew Heckert and students Annie Klyce and Brandon Yokeley, and included a tour of Boone Vulcan Quarry led by James Bear and Denise Hallett of the Vulcan Materials Company.

The Water on the Move program includes a summer teacher workshop (to be held on July 23, 2019) and with a stipend, bursaries for teachers, visits by Gebago to schools, grants for participating pilot schools, intern salaries and conference travel on the present project outcomes.

“Our partnership with Vulcan Materials Company and the support their foundation has given us has been invaluable in expanding our outreach programs, particularly in recent years. Denise Hallett, Community and Government Relations Manager at Vulcan Materials Company, and I have worked together to develop quality teacher workshops and classroom kits, and we regularly discuss new ways our partnership is transforming science education in the region and beyond continue to support,” said Marta Toran, Outreach Coordinator, Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences.

A budding geologist tries on volcanic safety gear during Watauga Science PALS (Participating in Active Learning through Science) Day. Photo by Marta Toran.

What is Vulcan Materials Company
Vulcan Materials Company is the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates – primarily crushed stone, sand and gravel – and a major producer of aggregate-based construction materials, including asphalt and ready-mixed concrete. Their headquarters are in Birmingham, Alabama. As of 2017, Vulcan has 375 active aggregate plants and over 120 plants producing asphalt and/or concrete that also consume aggregate.

Whatever Vulcan makes is used in almost every design. Large amounts of aggregates are used in particular for the construction and repair of valuable infrastructure such as roads, bridges, waterworks and ports, as well as for the construction of residential and non-residential buildings such as manufacturing plants, office buildings, schools, hospitals and churches. The Boone Quarry supplies aggregate for construction and drainage projects ranging from housing to road construction.

Vulcan is committed to serving and supporting the neighborhoods and communities where our employees live and work. Employees are encouraged to give back by volunteering their time and talents to strengthen their communities. From 2009 through 2018, Vulcan gave $49 million in donations and support to the community and partnered with 238 schools in 2018 alone.

For more information on community outreach, teacher training, or campus visits, contact Marta Toran [email protected]Outreach Coordinator for the Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences or visit

Brandon Yokeley ’19, geology major, Quantitative Geosciences, shows a fourth grader the correct technique for breaking rocks.
A fifth grader examines an aquatic invertebrate in the geobago during an environmental science lesson at his school in the Watauga County School System. Photo by Marta Toran.
Appalachian Academy at Middle Fork Students Erik Mariche-Garcia, Rajanae Bethea and Tatiana Rowland at a Picture Yourself as a Geologist (PYES) outreach event where students learn about careers in the geosciences. Photo by Marta Toran.

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