Benson sabbatical description

Purpose, Benson sabbatical,  Spring Semester 2014

The sabbatical work is designed to help increase student recruiting, retention and outreach.  I propose to do this by enhancing access to the Ryan Museum with its extraordinary geological diversity.  A secondary objective of my sabbatical is expanding this access to the Zacheis Planetarium by using the critically acclaimed Layered Earth dome projection software.  A tertiary objective includes long-term development by expansion and maintenance of the above sabbatical projects.  Both the Ryan Museum and the Zacheis Planetarium are central components of the HSI Title V grant recently awarded to Adams State University for STEM outreach, and this sabbatical will allow the fullest development of new grant resources.

Proposed sabbatical activity

The following program will be carried out:

Primary objective:  Ryan Museum inquiry-based information system

  • Steps:  develop interactive touch screen technology linked to Museum geodatabases (map-based) and other collection information
    • Refine and troubleshoot design of existing databases
    • Compile, refine and proof existing data, including local occurrences, geology, comparable occurrences, etc.
    • Expand and research additional specimen information, e.g., locality, regional geology, fossil cladistics, etc.
    • Purchase approved materials allocated in the Title V grant
    • Refine applications that allow users to easily access a diverse variety of information about Museum specimens and features
    • Collaborate with other geographic information systems (GIS) software specialists and application developers, on and off-campus
    • Attend faculty development training as appropriate using Title V funds
  • Develop exciting and innovative applications designed to spark and hold interest in Earth Sciences throughout the STEM student community with tangible student-inquiry based technologies
  • Product:  deploy and use technology in the Ryan Museum, allowing inquiry-based exploration of the Museum specimens, localities, and other details on demand.  See pedestal platform technology at

Secondary objective:  Zacheis Planetarium

  • Steps:  develop Layered Earth program using Ryan Museum geodatabases
    • Comprehensively assess Layered Earth software coding and programming requirements (preliminary research suggests this will not be a major issue)
    • Pilot a test program with Ryan Museum specimens in a dynamic geologic model  environment that not only shows Museum specimen details but also places them in a context of environment and genesis
    • Establish updating processes and protocols
    • Attend faculty development training as appropriate using Title V funds for this aspect of the sabbatical, perhaps combined with other training
    • Product:  formal development and delivery of interactive Layered Earth planetarium shows to ASU classes, K-12 groups and the general public beginning in Summer 2014.  These Layered Earth shows will interface directly with the Ryan Museum, creating a worldwide context for the onsite specimens. These shows will complement, enhance and expand existing Planetarium outreach efforts.  For example, a secondary school group visit might include a Layered Earth show in the Planetarium followed by a visit to the Ryan Museum.

Tertiary objective:  develop effective support of expansion, maintenance, and data collection developed during these sabbatical projects

  • Steps:
    • integrate field data collection and curation protocols with the above objectives
    • incorporate online guest book and feedback system for the Museum and Layered Earth shows in the Planetarium
    • Product:  effective updating, maintenance and continuity of the Museum, Layered Earth, and the Program teaching collections, independent of technology changes, keep the data useable in any software, hardware or curation setting

The depth and organization of these objectives will significantly contribute to the University’s mission, vision, and goals.  Few additional expenditures beyond grant-secured resources and faculty development are anticipated; therefore, no contingency plans are necessary.


My goals for the proposed sabbatical are twofold:  successfully complete the primary objective of establishing the Ryan Museum technology and continue the secondary and tertiary objectives of delivering, supporting and maintaining Layered Earth planetarium shows.  After the sabbatical term is completed, my goals are to use products developed during the sabbatical to teach, recruit and retain Earth Sciences and other STEM majors and support the STEM outreach initiatives included in the HSI Title V grant.  This project will significantly increase awareness of Earth Sciences programs in the K-12 and college communities.

My sabbatical report will include a detailed summary of materials that I plan to incorporate into my courses at ASU.  All my courses will benefit from this sabbatical work, but Physical Geology, Earth History, Mineralogy, and Intro to GIS are all courses that will be especially enhanced.  Furthermore, public presentations will be held to expand campus awareness of the new outreach programs.  The first public presentation is scheduled during the HSI Summer STEM Academy in 2014 and will be the first formal outreach to the local high school student population.  Presentation times during Fall 2014 are requested for the Lunchtime Talks in Science and Mathematics and the Faculty & Staff Lecture Series.  Furthermore, this project uses cutting-edge teaching technology, and I intend to publish my sabbatical results in a typical geoscience pedagogy journal, such as the Journal of Geoscience Education.


The proposed sabbatical will benefit Adams State University, our students, and me by initiating a new and innovative approach to the Museum, the Planetarium, and existing Earth Sciences resources as stated below.  The proposed sabbatical work is necessary if ASU is to take full advantage of the equipment allocated in the Title V grant for the Ryan Museum and Layered Earth dome projection software. In addition to the direct benefit that STEM majors will receive, the Ryan Museum and Zacheis Planetarium will likely attract even more visitors.   Since 2004, over 7,000 people, mostly school groups, have visited the Ryan Museum.  When the sabbatical work is completed, this number is expected to at least double and will include more visitors beyond the San Luis Valley.

Professional growth

I expect to learn new GIS and programming skills in an applied setting, with direct impact on the Ryan Museum collection and the remodeled Zacheis Planetarium.  This sabbatical leave will allow me to focus on improving and expanding the teaching resources of the Earth Sciences Program, making my 28 years of applied and academic geology experience even more of an asset to the University.  These new skills will also directly translate into effective examples and experiences for students and will improve field data collection and curation methods.

Increasing opportunities for students

In addition to my professional growth, this sabbatical will directly benefit ASU students and the K-12 community by allowing me the time to effectively develop inquiry-based exploration of the Ryan Museum collection.  Furthermore, use of Layered Earth will bring the Ryan Museum collection into a dynamic geology setting, useable in upper and lower-division major classes and general education coursework.

Senior research and other special projects will become available to STEM majors for incorporating special interest modules in the Museum or Layered Earth.  An example of such a module might be a particular fossil environment, represented by the hands-on component in the Museum, complemented by a Layered Earth module illustrating the tectonic evolution of the fossil locality from deposition through the present day.  During the sabbatical leave, I will develop the necessary skills and facility to effectively mentor projects like this.

Raising awareness of Adams State University

Products and opportunities developed by this sabbatical will lead to an increased awareness of Adams State University’s offerings by engaging the larger San Luis Valley community and beyond, using Layered Earth shows and Ryan Museum tours.  At this time, no other University or STEM outreach programs use technology in the way described by this sabbatical proposal.

Increasing my knowledge

The opportunity to learn even more about the world-class Ryan Museum collection during my sabbatical leave will be nothing short of inspirational.  I expect that my knowledge of mineralogy, crystallography, paleontology, GIS, and other subjects will greatly increase.  My new Layered Earth expertise will also lead to interesting and exciting discoveries that will improve my established teaching skills, allowing me to use engaging visuals and inquiry-based student interactions in all my courses.  Spatial analysis, three-dimensional perception, and process visualization are a continual challenge to teach, and my new knowledge and tools will enable me to better illustrate these concepts.

Enhancing students’ educational experience

The Planetarium and Layered Earth will dynamically engage viewers.  College students from any major will be inspired by the new dimensions of inquiry provided in the Museum.  To illustrate how any student’s educational experience might be enhanced by this project, consider this possible account of what any student might think on entering the Museum in Fall 2014:

  • “Wow, look at all this stuff…”
  • “That table looks like a giant iPad…   It is a giant iPad…”
  • “lol, those apps look like my phone, hey there’s a birthstone app…”
  • “There’s my birthstone, I should look, where are they…?” (taps on locator tab; starred location on map of Museum appears with location description and more details)
  • “Maps!  They have aquamarine here in this Museum. There’s a map of Colorado where I might find some,  wow, there’s even a place to look at some microscope pictures, wait how can you use a microscope on a rock?  Oh, Google Earth, that app rocks.”
  • “What cool crystal models, you can spin them around and look at all sides…”
  • “Nasty.  Look at the pollution that comes from pyrite rusting.”

Furthering Adams State University’s Mission, Vision, and Goals

The mission, vision, and goals of Adams State University* are as follows:

 Adams State University Mission Statement

Adams State University dedicates its resources to provide opportunity and access for all students. The University is an innovative leader that recognizes the inherent educational value of diversity. It is a catalyst for the educational, cultural and economic interests of rural Colorado, the surrounding region and the global community.

Adams State University Vision Statement

Building opportunities for everyone to learn and succeed.

 Adams State University Institutional Goals

1.      Providing opportunity and access for all
2.      Honoring diversity of people, cultures and ideas
3.      Promoting excellence in teaching and learning
4.      Fostering communities of caring, respect and civility
5.      Cultivating innovation, integrity and ethical leadership
6.      Serving as responsible stewards of our resources

 * – Adams State University website:

Educational and Outreach opportunities for STEM will be greatly diversified and increased through work I complete while on sabbatical.  Currently the planetarium programs are heavily weighted toward space and astronomy.  My sabbatical work will expand programming to include all of Earth Sciences as well as other interdisciplinary programs.  Moreover, the proposed sabbatical work develops an innovative instructional venue to address students’ varying degrees of academic preparedness, thereby supporting ASU’s mission and vision statements by providing more opportunity and access for students of all abilities and interests.  In short, anyone, students and community alike, will be able to use and learn from the Ryan Museum and Layered Earth resources.  Students and community visitors will be able to see beyond the Museum, rural Colorado and into the world in a hands-on, inquiry-based learning environment.

The sabbatical work clearly supports Adams State University’s Institutional Goals 1, 3, 5 and 6.  The Ryan Museum will become a better student-centered learning environment, using cutting-edge technologies and resources.  The proposed sabbatical work will enrich visitors’ experiences and help them gain a greater understanding and appreciation of natural resources.  New knowledge will help students and visitors serve as responsible stewards of our resources.  These experiences all contribute to the above institutional goals.  Additionally, references to the local geological setting will help support Institutional Goals 2 and 4 by creating a better appreciation of the close links between natural and cultural settings.

In further support for this sabbatical work, the Colorado Department of Higher Education released a “master” plan for improving higher-education with performance contracts on December 4, 2012.  Parts of the plan include recruitment and retention of rural, low-income, minority students in higher education and successful graduation of those same students.  This sabbatical work will help ASU meet future performance contracts.

In summary, the sabbatical work provides a high rate of return on ASU’s investment and meets all aspects of sabbatical requirements described in the Faculty Handbook.  The sabbatical work will provide excellent opportunities to students of all levels, adding to ASU’s prospects for long-term viability and sustainability as an institution of higher education.   Enhanced access to the Ryan Museum’s extraordinary geological diversity, coupled with Layered Earth in the Zacheis Planetarium, will significantly increase student recruiting, retention and outreach.

It is much better to learn the elements of geology, of botany, or ornithology and astronomy by word of mouth from a companion than dully from a book.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

As in geology, so in social institutions, we may discover the causes of all past changes in the present invariable order of society.

-Henry David Thoreau 

Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”

-Will Durant