The Graduate College

Winter 2009


New & Noteworthy
Reflections from the Dean
Need to Know
Program Notes: NCATE
GSO Update
GA Corner
Deadlines & Calendar
The Successful Grad Student
Sparkly Things! Talking with Cici Cruz-Uribe
The Infallible Professor?
Making It as a Distance Student
Graduate Resources at Cline Library
Fellowships & Scholarships: Coming Out a Winner!

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Profile: Cici Cruz-Uribe
Melissa Hatfield Riggs

Sparkly Things

We generally have this crazy idea that graduating allows you to stop, take a breath, and wind down for a moment. In December, master’s student Alicia Cruz-Uribe (Cici) was winding up. She twinkles. “Next Friday I defend, the next Friday I graduate, and Sunday I leave to go to a conference! I get back on Christmas Day, and then on the 28th I go to Penn State. Oh–my–GOD….”

Cici Cruz-Uribe

Pennsylvania State University recognized a gem in Cruz-Uribe. In November, the PSU geosciences department offered her their Bunton-Waller Graduate Fellowship supporting two semesters and two summers of doctoral study, a half-time research assistantship for fall 2009, and a teaching assistantship for spring 2010. The initial two-year package includes a full tuition waiver and living stipend and totals approximately $33,000 annually. With satisfactory progress, this support will continue throughout her doctoral program.

PSU also will nominate Cruz-Uribe for a Sloan Scholarship, which provides a one-time financial gift of approximately $40,000 and the chance to become one of an exciting community of scholars. Oh, and then there’s a signing bonus.

If you know her at all, you’re aware that Cruz-Uribe shines. As a person, she has an incandescent smile and effervescent personality. As a scientist, she holds a bachelor’s in earth science from Dartmouth, the newly achieved master’s in geology from NAU, and her thesis details impressive, groundbreaking research.

Cruz-Uribe was born in Rhode Island but raised here in Flagstaff. Both parents were longtime NAU faculty: her mother Kathryn is an archaeologist and former dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and her dad Eugene is an Egyptologist formerly in the Department of History. Because both parents did summer research, Cruz-Uribe and her sister spent every summer with their grandmother in New Hampshire until their mid-teens.

“I grew up with the idea that I would go to an Ivy League school on the East Coast,” Cruz-Uribe says. “I considered Harvard and MIT, but I grew up here in the woods, and those schools didn’t fit my lifestyle. So my grandfather recommended that I go up and look at Dartmouth. In the admissions office I found fabulous yearbook photos of people rafting, hiking, and climbing, and I said, ‘Oh, these are all the things I like to do; I’m going to go here!’”

Interestingly enough, Cruz-Uribe began college as a major in art history with an emphasis in studio art and a minor in earth science. But rocks won out in the end. “I’ve been a rock climber for many, many years. I’ve always loved rocks; I grew up in Arizona, you know? I grew up hiking the canyon, absolutely loving the canyon.

"Beyond that, I’ve always had a passion for gemstones. Diamonds are great, but colored stones are really interesting. What makes those colors? There are all sorts of deeply colored minerals out there, and a majority of them are found in metamorphic rocks, which is probably why I’ve ended up focusing on metamorphic rocks—they’re pretty!”

Photomicrograph of one of Cruz-Uribe's meticulously
prepared garnet samples.

Garnet sample

Cruz-Uribe returned to Flagstaff for graduate study, she says, because NAU is a great place to study geology. “NAU’s master’s program in geology has a very good reputation and national recognition. People who come out of this program, if they are motivated and want to, can go wherever they want. I also wanted a program that was specifically a master’s program. A lot of people in geology are going directly from their undergrad to a Ph.D., but I felt that with an environmental earth science background I first needed to know more about rocks.”

Cruz-Uribe had planned to continue the same sort of research that she had been doing as an undergraduate: her senior thesis involved uranium contamination in soil and groundwater. When she got here, however, she decided that she wanted to do something new, something more focused in geochemistry.

“In our introductory ‘how to be a grad student in geology’ course, all the professors come in and talk about what they do so that incoming grad students know what kind of research is going on in the department,” she explains. “Dr. Hoisch came in and gave a talk on his research and showed all these pretty pictures of garnets, and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do—they’re sparkly! That’s what I want.’”

The research Cruz-Uribe went on to do did indeed involve garnets and received a lot of attention in her conference presentations at the 2007 and 2008 American Geophysical Union fall meetings.

For the layman who doesn’t “speak geology,” Professor Tom Hoish, Cruz-Uribe’s advisor and thesis chair, describes her research as follows.

Cici’s research involved detailed chemical analysis of garnet crystals that grow when a clay-rich sedimentary rock is subjected to high temperatures and pressures. Garnet is especially interesting because the details of its chemistry can reveal the pressure-temperature changes the rock experienced as the garnet crystals grew. A grant from the National Science Foundation funded her project, which was part of a larger collaboration with the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Washington State University and involved working with samples collected from a mountain range along the Idaho-Utah border. The garnet crystals grew during a major episode of mountain building known as the Sevier orogeny, when large sheet-like packages of rock moving west to east along faults buried the sedimentary rocks.

If the garnet crystallization could be dated, the ages would record the fault movement that buried the area. Using a technique recently devised by a collaborator at Washington State, Cici used WSU’s MC-ICPMS instrument to date garnet crystals from three areas in the mountain range. The results established that burial events associated with fault movement occurred 85 million years ago, 138 million years ago, and 150 million years ago. She also gained insight on the mineral chemical reactions responsible for garnet growth and the significance of the ages by obtaining detailed analyses of trace elements at Stanford University using Stanford’s high-resolution ion microprobe called a SHRIMP-RG, one of two in the world.

Working on Stanford's SHRIMP-RG is not easy at all! Cruz-Uribe and Hoisch alternated 15-hour shifts for 64 hours straight.
Stanford's SHRIMP-RG

Cruz-Uribe’s study ultimately contributes to the history and understanding of major continent collision in the western United States.  It’s a much more ambitious and time-intensive project than most master’s students take on.

“Cici’s project is the first to use the new garnet dating method to establish the timing of burial events in an orogenic belt and among the first to successfully use trace elements to help interpret garnet growth reactions,” Hoisch says. “Both represent exciting and significant scientific advances.”

“Garnets love to grow,” says Cruz-Uribe. So does she. “I feel like I’ve just started. With two and one-half years of master’s work I feel like I finally know enough about one area of geology to have some questions about it. How can you not go on and try to figure everything out? I really want to know more.”

For her doctoral research, she will focus on trace elements analysis and the spatial scales of equilibria (how fast and far ions travel when rocks heat and metamorphose). She’ll also do experimental petrology, growing specific minerals in a tiny capsule to study their geochemistry at specific pressures and temperatures. In addition, she plans to further explore isotope geochemistry and dating, which are applicable to areas of geology beyond metamorphic geochemistry.

Cruz-Uribe’s long-term plans are to remain in academia. “I like to teach. At Yavapai Community College I had an amazing range of students: everyone from first-year college students to people in their fifties and sixties going back to school or taking a class for fun. I particularly like interacting with underrepresented or first-generation college students, being able to share my experiences with them and encourage them to continue in school. Access to education is the most important thing we can do for people; I believe that 90 percent of the socio-economic problems that we have in this country could be fixed by education. The more people know, the more informed the decisions they make for themselves.”

Gemstones plus light plus motion equal color, fire, and sparkle. It’s no wonder Cruz-Uribe loves sparkly things. All the things we associate with them—brilliance, intensity, sparkle, and shine—are true of Cruz-Uribe herself.

Melissa Hatfield Riggs, Graduate College

How to be a Successful Graduate Student:
Advice from Cici Cruz-Uribe, MS Geology '08