September 15, 2010
Andrew Collins at a glacier in New Zealand, where he is studying geology at the University of Canterbury.
WOOSTER, Ohio — Andrew Collins found himself on shaky ground earlier this month in New Zealand after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the community of Christchurch, on Sept. 4. The powerful tremor caused extensive damage to the city of 315,000, where Collins, a junior from South Freeport, Maine, is studying geology at the University of Canterbury.
“It was definitely an odd feeling,” wrote Collins on the College’s geology blog. “Cars were crushed; facades had been torn from buildings and had basically fallen face-first into the street; fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances were going every which way; and bulldozers were being unloaded off flatbeds at every street corner. It definitely seemed a bit like a dream.”
The quake occurred at 4:30 a.m., rousing Collins from a deep sleep. “I think I was too tired to completely take in what was happening,” he said. “Plus, I didn't know the magnitude until later in the morning…but when the aftershocks began to roll through at magnitudes up to 5.4, I began to worry about the structural integrity of the building I live in. After seeing damage both firsthand and on the news I became increasingly afraid that the quake had damaged the support structure and one of the aftershocks was going to bring it down.”
As a geology major, Collins is well aware of what happens when the earth’s plates shift, but he had never experience a quake firsthand. “Growing up on the East Coast, a passive margin, and going to school in Ohio, I've had little exposure to tectonically active areas,” he said. “That's part of the reason I decided to study in New Zealand, though, I must admit, I wasn't expecting anything quite like this.”
Collins plans to resume classes at Wooster in January, and his recent experience should give him new insight about his major. “I've been traveling around, and I've encountered all manner of interesting things, geologically speaking,” he said. “I don't think any of that constitutes real research, but I'm certainly getting lots of ideas in light of the recent events.”
Collins came to Wooster, in part, because of its intimate size and corresponding benefits — close relationships with professors, small class sizes, and opportunities for involvement in research and a multitude of other programs. “I chose (Wooster) because of its academic reputation,” he said. “I also chose it based on a feeling.”
That feeling has translated into a fruitful experience at Wooster. “The work ethic necessary to succeed at a school like Wooster has helped me to keep on top of my studies here (in New Zealand), which in turn allows me to get out and explore on weekends and breaks without having to worry about impending due dates,” he said. “The classes I've taken have really helped set me up both for employment (he worked with an engineering company during the summer) and for continuing education. I'd say that I'm a more independent person, but at the same time I've come to appreciate the value of collaboration. I find that many decisions I make now are made much easier by bouncing ideas off friends or professors first, and I think that's something that I discovered doing sophomore research with Dr. (Meagen) Pollock in the geology department.”
Equally important to Collins are the relationships he has developed during the past two years. “Of the people that I heard from first after the quake, two were my parents, several were friends from Wooster, and three were professors in the geology department,” he said. “Granted, they may have been motivated by something more than the desire to know that I was safe (earthquakes beneath a city and without fatalities don't happen every day), but it was really meaningful to hear from them after the event. I don’t see that happening at a
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