National conference held in one of West Tennessee’s oldest classrooms

SELMER, Tenn. – One honor’s society conference is taking place in one of West Tennessee’s oldest classrooms.

The Sigma Gamma Epsilon honor society held their 46th biannual conference at the Coon Creek Science Center, hosted by the University of Tennessee at Martin. Sigma Gamma Epsilon is a student-run honor society which promotes academic excellence and professionalism in the field of geoscience. Chapters from all across the United States gathered on Friday to kick off the conference at the UT Martin Selmer Center.

Director of the Coon Creek Science Center, Michael Gibson, says he’s excited to host the conference and introduce other geoscientists to the Coon Creek Site. “We have representations coming from as far away as Texas to the west and Connecticut up in the Northeast. It’s always great to interact with students because the students that are doing this now, well, these are the geologists of the future.” Gibson continues, “So a few years from now, these are gonna be my colleagues that I work with, and it’s good. It’s fun to watch them advance their careers and participate in this. It’s great to watch their excitement when they actually do geology and not just study geology, but they’re doing it for themselves now.” 

The society is student-run with the help of a few advisors along the way. The conference gives chapters across the country a chance to collaborate and mingle with other chapters and build connections within their field. Being a part of a national honor society can help a student’s career, but are often pushed aside due to lack of time. 

Diane Burns, the president of Sigma Gamma Epsilon honor Society speaks more about the society, “This is an honor society that only serves to enhance your experience as an undergraduate but honor societies are failing, not because of the honor society but because of pressures placed on students. Honor societies are being pushed to the side because they don’t have time for it but it really is an invaluable experience.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic halted the biannual conference, the organization is finally meeting face to face for the first time since 2017. Many students are excited for their journey over the weekend, but many advisors are just as excited.

After being a part of SGE for over 25 years, Rick Ford, regional vice president for the western province of Sigma gamma Epsilon,  elaborates on some of his favorite memories within the society, “One of my favorite memories is just seeing students come together and have fun also while they’re training to become professional geoscientists.”

While speaking with many students, there were a multitude of activities to look forward to, including a student research poster presentation, a fossil dig at the Coon Creek Science Center, and a star-gazing opportunity with local astronomer, Lionel Crews. 

Jacob McCourt, an attendee from Eastern Connecticut State University explains he’s excited to bond with others about their passions, “Even if I’m not from the area, just getting the experience talking to people in the field is exciting. You never know who you may meet, but we’re all complete strangers that can bond on our passion for science.” 

Natalie Hudson, the lead intern at Coon Creek Science Center, says it’s an incredible experience being part of the behind the scenes, but there are still many things to look forward to over the weekend. “I’m most looking forward to the post-digging process when everyone conglomerates their fossils together and start cleaning and the lab process.” Hudson explains, “I’m just looking forward to people unearthing the real beauty of the fossils.” 

Since the ribbon cutting at the center occurred last April, the center has already hit a major milestone by hosting the conference. Officials say they are excited for the future of the site.

Gibson says, “It feels like we finally arrived at what we were supposed to be doing all along. The site has always been famous. It’s been important scientifically, but that’s been hidden to most everybody else because scientists are doing their science work. So to have a national honor society recognize that, and choose it to be their centerpiece kind of is a vindication for us or, or a milestone that allows us to move up to a national level for our small little campus because you know, we are a small little campus and so this gives us a lot of notoriety as well.

The conference ended on Sunday, September 18th. The Coon Creek Science Center is still open to visitors by appointment or on their community dates. To make an appointment, you can call the UT Martin Selmer Center. 

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