Geologist broadens horizons at BCMS
Sometimes the student becomes the teacher, but in the case of Danielle Olinger, the student has become the expert outside consultant.
The 2005 graduate of Buffalo High School, now a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver, Colorado, returned to Buffalo Community Middle School on Tuesday, Feb. 14, to guide eighth-grade Quest students through a challenging simulated field geology activity.
Olinger, who has also visited a number of times in previous years but was returning in person for the first time since the onset of Covid-19, said it just made sense to share her professional knowledge with a new generation of BCMS students.
“I knew I wanted to be a geologist after taking Earth Science here in eighth grade,” she said, adding that she was one of a handful of students who were selected to take a field trip to the Black Hills that year. “That was a life-changing experience for me.”
One of the teachers on that trip was Kim Atkins. The two have stayed in touch over the years, with Olinger regularly returning to teach next-level mini units that coincide with the science courses Atkins is teaching at the time.
“She’s my go-to person when I have questions,” said Atkins. “She created this whole lesson for us and is here on her own personal time.”
The project undertaken by BCMS students tied together much of what they have learned over the course of the year about rock types and the environmental conditions that form them. In the lesson taught by Olinger students learned, among other things, to use field notebooks, compasses and trigonometry to estimate the height of rock outcrops.
Olinger studies rare earth elements in Denver, and explained that many of the electronics and other items used in everyday life cannot operate without those elements.
“They’re in everything we do, every day,” Olinger said.
Her educational efforts are not limited to her periodic visits to Buffalo. She also has served as a volunteer education coordinator for Mines Museum of Earth Science in Colorado, has been involved with community education and outreach for the Geological Society of America, and has conducted various programs at libraries and through the Science Olympiad program.
“There are so many facets of what you can do in this area outside of schools,” Olinger said. “I do things like this because I really enjoy it. It helps students know what is out there, and broadens their understanding of what is possible.”