undergraduate research

Historically, undergraduate research has been an important component of our programs since its inception. Our faculty's approach to undergraduate research is to engage students in the process of conducting science, not by telling students what to do to complete some project designed by someone else, but by mentoring them through the process of understanding a topic, then designing and conducting the research necessary to explain something about that topic.

Students engaged in our research program do so through enrolling in a one, two, or three credit hour course with the prefix MSCI (i.e., MSCI 4103, MSCI 4203, MSCI 4303). In many instances students continue their project across two or more semesters and write a thesis, and several programs encourage this path for students planning on graduate or professional school, but it is not required. Not all research is conducted in a laboratory- there are several projects underway in field biology and geology that pursue a research topic as well. The major topic areas presently available to students include:

  • Mammalian paleontological analysis of Eocene Badlands specimens
  • Analysis of well cuttings to enhance horizontal drilling practices
  • Analysis of Lake Theo (Caprock Canyon State Park) volume fluctuations and hydroclimatology.

The culmination of both independent and course-level research projects is presentations of findings at a scientific meetings. Students are given multiple opportunities to present either poster or oral presentations throughout the semester. Some of the scientific meetings attending include:

  • Texas Academy of Science
  • West Texas Geological Society Meeting
  • Southwest Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologist
  • National American Association of Petroleum Geologist
  • South Central Section Geological Society of America Meeting

At a local level, the School of Mathematics and Sciences hosts an annual Spring Research Day. Students are encouraged to present either poster format or oral presentation of their independent and/or course-level undergraduate research.

Recent Abstracts Presented by WBU Geology Students

Hydroclimatology and Environmental Factors Affecting Volume Fluctuation of Lake Theo, Caprock Canyons State Park, Texas. Kaylee Lawrence and Tim Walsh, Ph.D., Wayland Baptist University

Lake Theo at Caprock Canyons State Park, TX has visually fluctuated dramatically in the last fifteen years. In order to quantify volume changes monthly Landsat imagery was analyzed for the total surface area and bathymetry was acquired using sonar with GPS. Topography of the area was acquired using basic surveying methods and all of this data was then combined in ESRI ArcGIS software to summarize the volumetric changes. Factors playing a role in the volume fluctuation may include precipitation, ground water influx, evaporation rates, and soil infiltration. Precipitation and climate history from the surrounding area were analyzed primarily with data from the Texas Tech Mesonet System. Soil type was examined to evaluate infiltration rates and all results were used to estimate ground water input. Although an obvious correlation between precipitation and lake volume is present, other factors, especially ground water contribution, play a large role in controlling lake volumes.


A taxonomic and taphonomic description of an ungulate fossil from the Chadron Formation of the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota. Hunter Green and Dr. David Schmidt, Wayland Baptist University.

In a recent field expedition to the Indian Creek area within the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, South Dakota, a field team from Wayland Baptist University collected fossil specimens from the White River Group. This area is recognized as one of the most fossiliferous localities spanning late Cretaceous to early Miocene strata. A partial mandible of a large fossil ungulate was recovered from the upper Chadron Formation and is being investigated for its taxonomic relationship and condition of preservation. A preliminary description and morphometric analysis has been conducted on recovered skeletal elements. The left dentary is highly fractured and measures 30.7 cm in length and 9.2 cm diagonally from the angular process to the curved antero-dorsal margin of the ramus, approximately 3 cm behind molar 2. Additionally, the left dentary contains an incomplete tooth row that measures 13.7 cm in length consisting of molars and premolars. The right dentary is represented by several bone and tooth fragments with an incomplete dentition while possessing enough material for a partial description. Based on dental and skeletal morphological comparisons to other large ungulates from the Chadron formation, Brontotheriidae and Hyracodontidae families are currently considered for taxonomic assignment. Most of the observed fractures in the left dentary appear to have occurred after fossilization. However, bone weathering and fracturing prior to fossilization is indicated by fracture-filling clay and flakes of bone within the matrix.


Geological mapping of the late Cretaceous to early Eocene strata within the Indian Creek
Area, Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, South Dakota
Garrett Williamson, Dr. David Schmidt, and Dr. Tim Walsh, Wayland Baptist University.

During the summer field season of 2012, it was recognized that a detailed geologic map of the Indian Creek area within the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands of South Dakota could be established. According to current knowledge, no detailed geologic map of the permitted field area has been published. Therefore, a preliminary map that includes members (Ahearn, Crazy Johnson, and Peanut Peak) of the Chadron Formation as well as the Chamberlain Pass and Pierre Shale Formations has been constructed. Each member and formation were located, measured, litho logically described, and compared to previous interpretations. Other collected data consisted of coordinates and elevations between stratigraphic boundaries. This information was acquired using a Trimble Geo XH with Terrasync 5.30 software. Once field data was transferred into ArcGIS 10.0, a map scale of 1:8000 was selected to show detail covering an area of 1.4 km2. The data was overlaid with Digital Raster Graphs (DRG) and Digital Orthophoto Quarter Quadrangles (DOQQ). Contact lines of stratigraphic boundaries were digitized through coordinate points and correlated with surface topography to create a current geologic map. A detailed map of discernible stratigraphic units within the Indian Creek area will be a valuable tool for future paleontological and geological investigations. Since, more information is needed to cover the entire designated field area of 9 km2, field work will continue in the summer of 2013 to obtain the necessary data for completion of this project.


Depositional interpretation using integrated sedimentological and paleontological data from a fossil-bearing unit within the Blackwater Draw Formation, Plainview, Texas. Taryn Shadden, David Schmidt, and Bryan Steffen, Wayland Baptist University.

Sediments of a fossil-bearing layer within the Blackwater Draw Formation are exposed in an abandoned quarry wall inside the city limits of Plainview, Texas. These sediments were previously interpreted as being deposited in an ancient stream channel by fluvial processes. This layer was horizontally sampled at three locations (PS 1, 2, and 3) to investigate if sediment deposition was restricted to stream flow. Several criteria were used to determine deposition of sediments, including 1) minerals present, 2) size of grains, and 3) taxonomic variation of fossil molluscs (bivalves and gastropods). Mineral grains consist primarily of quartz sands with minor amounts of calcite and feldspar. Samples PS 1 and 2 contain coarse grained cross-beds, and mollusc biodiversity which indicate deposition by stream flow. Location PS 3 was separated into two categories (PS 31 and PS 32) due to textural differences. Sample PS 31 contains fine sands of calcite and calcite-coated quartz, and low biodiversity but high abundances of Gyraulus parvus and Sphaerium transversum. Such findings suggest deposition from isolated bodies of concentrated water in the stream channel. Sample PS 32 possesses finer grain sizes and lacks fossil content, both of which are typical of deposition by wind. Therefore, current data and comparisons to modern stream deposits support the presence of microenvironments within the ancient stream channel, and signifies that sediment deposition and mollusc diversity are not completely controlled by stream flow.