Geology Graduate Student Rhonda Trujillo Travels to France for Research
New Mexico Highlands University geology graduate student Rhonda Trujillo will conduct field research this summer on extinct volcanoes in the Chaine du Puys mountains of south-central France through Highlands’ exchange program with Blaise Pascal University.
This is the first year for the exchange program, which was established by Highlands geology professor Michael Petronis and Blaise Pascal University geology professor Benjamin Van Wyk de Vries.
Trujillo will be using geographic information systems to map volcanic rocks in the vast Auvergne National Park, a few miles from Blaise Pascal University, which is in Clermont- Ferrand.
She will work in the university’s Magma and Volcano Laboratory.
“This is one of the biggest volcanic fields in France, making it geologically and scientifically significant,” Trujillo said. “It’s a magnificent area. This exchange program is an exciting opportunity to see the geology in another country, and make connections with what I’ve learned at Highlands.”
The 27-year-old from Pojoaque, N.M. earned her undergraduate degree in geology from Highlands. She worked on several research studies with geology professor Jennifer Lindline, including one that studied the mineralogy and geochemistry of igneous rocks in the Turkey Mountains of Mora County.
As an undergraduate, Trujillo also worked on research studies for Los Alamos National Labs. She is currently a graduate teaching assistant for geology courses at Highlands.
Trujillo’s master’s thesis is a rock magnetic study on volcanic structures in the Espanola Basin of the Rio Grande Rift in northern New Mexico. This basin is the water source for the surrounding communities, including Santa Fe.
“Rhonda is an outstanding student and has innate curiosity, which is the hallmark of a good scientist,” said Petronis, who chairs her thesis committee along with Lindline and natural resources professor Edward Martinez. “She’s also highly motivated and an independent learner.”
While at Blaise Pascal University, Trujillo will present guest lectures about the geology of Northern New Mexico to the university’s students and professors.
Trujillo, who speaks some French and is fluent in Spanish, will also assist a geology professor with an English language class for students from France and Spain.
“This new exchange program gives students an opportunity to gain global competency, gain international research experience, and develop contacts and mentors at the international level,” Petronis said. “They complete a research project tailored to their interest and aligned with their mentor’s expertise.”
Petronis met Van Wyk de Vries in 2006 while conducting joint geological research in the Canary Islands. The two professors have worked for several years to develop the exchange program.
A geology graduate student from Blaise Pascal University will visit Highlands this summer and conduct research on extinct volcanoes west of Santa Fe.
Highlands University’s portion of the exchange program is partially funded through a grant Petronis secured from the National Geographic Society. The university’s Office of Research and Sponsored Projects also provides support.
Trujillo, who is the first in her family to complete college, said studying geology at Highlands has been a life-changing experience for her.
“Seeing how passionate Dr. Lindline and Dr. Petronis are about their work, geology and their students is very inspirational to me,” Trujillo said.
This is not Trujillo’s first international research experience.
In 2008, she traveled to Dublin, Ireland with Lindline, Petronis and several Highlands’ geology students to present their geological research at the annual meeting for the Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group.