Profile: Cici Cruz-Uribe
|Melissa Hatfield Riggs|
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….”
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.
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.
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.”
“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 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.”
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