Geology students at Wake Tech Community College have the chance to study large rocks from all over North Carolina without ever leaving campus.
The college introduced the Mountains to the Sea Outdoor Geology Lab at its northern campus on Tuesday. It features 12 boulders that came from as far west as Bessemer City in Gaston County all the way to Onslow County at the coast.
A similar lab, with 11 boulders, was also installed at Wake Tech’s main campus in south Raleigh.
“It’s a wonderful outreach into the community for geology,” said Sara Rutzky, a Wake Tech instructor who helped design and plan the project.
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Geology is the most popular lab science at Wake Tech, which is the largest community college in the state, said school President Stephen Scott.
Until now, the geology department’s 50 students had to learn from small samples of rocks kept in boxes in classrooms.
Some students referred to their geology studies as “rocks in a box,” Scott said.
The geology labs will get students out of the classroom and closer to the field they hope to work in.
“Most of us geologists get into this wanting to be outside,” said Rachel Willis, a geology major from Knightdale. “There’s a big difference between reading about it and doing it.”
Raleigh-based Martin Marietta Materials donated about $150,000 toward the project and other endowments to the college, said CEO Ward Nye.
The boulders came from several quarries across the state. Rutzky and other Wake Tech faculty members visited each quarry.
In addition to the boulders, instructors took large samples back to the classroom for study.
Students can use the samples and the boulders to see swaths of patterns and fossils, Rutzky said.
Also, the rocks can provide insight into how major landmarks across the state were created as land masses moved.
The lab at the northern campus features a boulder instructors are calling Rolesville granite. Construction crews who are building additions at the campus hit rock last summer and offered a piece of it to the project, Rutzky said.
In the future, Rutzky said, she hopes to add improvements to the labs to interest other students.
She hopes to develop an audio tour to accompany the boulders to make it accessible to students who are blind or visually impaired. She also wants to develop a website so people can learn about the history of the rocks and where they came from.
“There’s an exciting thing about every rock,” Rutzky said.