Crossroads Geology in the Field: Risks and Rewards of Volcanic Processes in Andean Landscapes is a 2-week, 2-credit intensive summer field component of the GEOL410 Volcanology in Global Contexts (offered in Spring 2020). This Crossroads field course involves extensive travel within Ecuador and is designed to provide students with first-hand insights into the volcanoes of Ecuador and the historic and current impacts of those geologic features on various Andean communities.

  • Students will investigate field exposures of volcanic deposits in the Ecuadoran Andes to interpret generative volcanic processes.
  • Students will visit prehistoric and colonial sites and discuss how the resources of this volcanic landscape supported colonial and prehistoric societies. Students will review evidence of periodic volcanic unrest that impacted these sites.
  • Students will contrast the earlier periods to the situations of contemporary society seeking to understand effective risk management approaches. In discussion, they will extrapolate what they learn from the Ecuadorean case studies to the less frequently active volcanoes of the Cascades and Alaska-Aleutian volcanic ranges.
  • Activities include lectures by local archaeology and volcanology experts, fieldwork and field notes, discussion of peer-reviewed literature and videos in conjunction with field observations, and investigation of maps.

Program Dates*:

  • May 27-June 12, 2020

*dates are subject to change based on Yachay Tech semester schedule


  • Various locations in Ecuador including Quito, Yachay Tech in San Miguel de Urcuqui, Imbabura Province, Tena, and Baños.

Program Itinerary*:

May 27 Depart from Seattle
May 28 Arrive in Quito
May 29 Arrive Yachay Tech; orientation to the geology of Ecuador
May 30 - June 3 Volcanoes Cuicocha, Imbabura, and Cubilche
June 4 - 5 Antisana and the Cuyuja lava flows
June 6 - 8 Baños and Tungarahua volcano
June 9 Cotopaxi volcano en route to Quito
June 10 - 11 Guagua Pichincha and Quito
June 12 Depart for Seattle

*dates are subject to change based on Yachay Tech semester schedule

For whom is this course suited?

This course is for non-science and science majors who have taken an introductory geology course (e.g., GEOL 110, GEOL 120, or GEOL 125). The pre-requisite course may be taken as a co-requisite in spring 2020; in other words, interested students may apply even if they have not yet taken the pre-requisite. A 2-credit co-requisite course, GEOL 410 Volcanology in Global Contexts, will be offered during the spring of 2020. Any student admitted to the Crossroads Ecuador course will be designated a space in the co-requisite course. Although no Spanish language experience is required, students having an interest in Latin America, Hispanic Studies, urban planning, Environmental Studies, and/or Geology are especially encouraged to apply.

Course Title: GEOL258 Geology in the Field: Risks and Rewards of Volcanic Processes in Andean Landscapes
Credits: Two (2) credits
Counts as:

Major Credit:

Distribution Credit:

Global Studies Concentration:
Off-Campus Education requirement
Global Places and Events course requirement

Prerequisite: Geology 110, 120 or 125
Co-requisite: GEOL410 Volcanology in Global Contexts offered Spring 2020 (2 cr)
Geoscientists from many nations study cycles of dormancy and unrest arising at volcanoes. This course emphasizes advancing understanding of global volcanic processes, within the context of plate tectonic theory, by exploration of case studies, in-class experiments, computer simulations, and discussion of primary literature written by scientists from different cultural backgrounds. Students will undertake a literature investigation of a volcano of the Cascades or Alaska-Aleutian mountains for comparison with the Andean volcanoes we visit.

Course Description:

This course will investigate field exposures of volcanic deposits in the Ecuadoran Andes to interpret generative volcanic processes. This course will emphasize observation and interpretation of the characteristics of landslide debris flows, hyperconcentrated flows, pyroclastic density currents, and lava effusion. Discussions will consider physical resources necessary to contemporary and prehistoric societies and how an Andean volcanic landscape provides these resources. Consequently, periods of volcanic unrest required societal recognition and management of risk in modern, colonial, and prehistoric times, also a focus of discussion. Activities include lectures by local archaeology and volcanology experts, collection of geologic data in the field and associated observational note-taking, discussion of peer-reviewed literature and videos, and investigation of geological and hazard maps.

Learning Objectives:

  • To describe and measure volcanic deposits to reconstruct the parameters that describe volcanic processes. What can we learn scientifically about Andean volcanoes that helps us understand our own volcanic arcs of Cascadia and Aleutia-Alaska (Beringia)?
  • To examine the physical record of societal infrastructure as a record of collective human assessment of risks and rewards in a volcanic landscape. How similar and different are . human perspectives of volcanoes during three time periods (prehistory, colonial, modern) and from two cultural perspectives (Ecuadorian and Anglo-American)? What do we learn about ourselves as humans?
  • To engage in being a geoscientist in an international context and reflect upon the phenomenon of geo-tourism.

Assessment of Student Learning:

  • Participation in field work, site presentations and discussions (40% )
  • Field notebook observational notes (20%)
  • Field notebook daily summaries (20%)
  • Post-trip reflection (photo essay) (20%)

Pre-Course Orientation:

The Faculty Leader and Co-leader will hold 2-3 mandatory predeparture meetings for all participants during the spring semester. Essential predeparture topics will be covered to help students prepare for the field course including academic expectations, travel arrangements, living conditions, health, safety, medical insurance, personal budget, and cultural norms.

Dr. Kirsten Nicolaysen is an Associate Professor of Geology at Whitman College who has participated in scientific expeditions to volcanoes of the Southern Ocean, including the Kerguelen Archipelago and Plateau and the Southeast Indian Ridge. While at Whitman, she was the co-leader and co-principal investigator of a National Science Foundation funded expedition to study Aleutian volcanoes. This international and multidisciplinary team’s study, entitled Collaborative Research: Geological Hazards, Climate Change, and Human/ Ecosystems Resilience in the Islands of the Four Mountains, Alaska, led to the publication of a special issue in the journal Quaternary Research (DOI:, released May 2019. She spent the fall of 2016 at Yachay Tech in Ecuador while on sabbatical.

Gustavo Béjar Lopez is the local assistant, originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador.  He has spent four years at Yachay Tech as a student in the School of Geosciences. Gustavo has co-authored a published scientific article on Cubilche Volcano and is a research intern at the Colima Volcano Observatory in Mexico (summer 2019). He will graduate from Whitman with a major in Geology in May of 2020. He completed his Wilderness First Responder training at Whitman in January 2019.

Guest lecturers from Yachay Tech and from the Escuela Politécnica Nacional will contribute excellent, in-depth perspectives from geological and anthropological disciplines.


  • Most lodging will be at small hotels (posadas) in shared rooms where each individual has their own bed. At Yachay Tech, students will stay in apartments (student housing) that have shared kitchen and bathroom and individual bedrooms with locking doors. Students may be placed in an apartment with Yachay Tech students of the same gender.


  • Meals during the two-weeks of the course in Ecuador are covered by program fees in one of several ways. On field trip days, the group will be provided with boxed lunches. When staying at small hotels (posadas) breakfast will be provided at the hotel. For all other meals, including most dinners, students will purchase meals on their own using the meal stipend that will be provided by Whitman just prior to departure for Ecuador. When staying at Yachay Tech student housing, students will have access to kitchens and will shop and cook for their own breakfasts and dinners, which may be coordinated in small groups. This will provide an opportunity to shop with locals and dine at local eateries. Note also that students are responsible for purchasing their own meals during travel to and from Ecuador (at airports and on flights) and these meals are not covered by program fees.


  • Most of this field trip will occur in the central Andean valley of Ecuador, where altitudes range from 7,300 to 9,350 feet above sea level (asl), equivalent to 2,225-2,850 m asl. After students become more acclimated, a few easy to moderate half-day hikes are planned that may reach as high as 13,000’ asl (~3,950 m asl), although alternatives can be arranged. Both instructors have received Wilderness First Responder training and will monitor student comfort carefully.
  • Because the group will move from town to town frequently during this course, access to in-person mental health counseling services will not be available.
  • Because this program will travel to remote regions of Ecuador medical care may be several hours away and medical facilities very basic. Students with chronic medical conditions are advised to consult with their physician and with the OCS staff about the suitability of this destination and about any questions they may have.


Geology in the Field: Risks and Rewards of Volcanic Processes in Andean Landscapes welcomes applications from all Whitman undergrad students who:

  • are in good academic standing
  • will be continuing students in Summer 2020 (May 2020 graduates are ineligible)
  • are registered for classes at Whitman in Spring 2020 (ie students who are off campus on a Leave of Absence or on Off-Campus Studies during the Spring 2020 semester are ineligible)


  • Geology 110, 120 or 125


  • GEOL 410 Volcanology in Global Contexts (2 cr) Spring 2020

How to apply:

  • To apply to this program you will need to submit an online Crossroads Summer 2020 Application available mid-September through the OCS website.


  • Applications will be accepted thru Tuesday, October 15, 2019. This is not a rolling deadline and applications will be reviewed following the application closing date of October 15, 2019.

Group size:

  • Space is limited to 16 students


  • Applicants will be interviewed by the Faculty Leaders and an Off-Campus Studies staff member as part of the selection process.

Admission Notification:

  • Students will be informed of the status of their application in early November.

Enrollment Deposit:

  • Students admitted into the Crossroads program will be expected to pay a nonrefundable enrollment deposit of $500 within two weeks of acceptance. The enrollment deposit will be counted towards the course fee.

Program Fee: $1,235 (not including international airfare)

The program fee covers the following:

  • Tuition for 2-credit course and course materials
  • Housing and Meals
  • International Medical insurance
  • Group travel within Ecuador, course field trips, and program excursions
  • Pre-departure meetings and in-country orientation in Ecuador

The program fee does not cover the following:

  • International airfare to and from Quito
  • Passport fees
  • U.S. medical insurance
  • Cell phone and data plan
  • Meals at airports and on flights during travel between the US and Ecuador
  • Personal expenses such as social activities, independent travel, toiletries, laundry, school supplies, and souvenirs.

International Airfare: $1,400 (estimate)

  • International airfare is separate from the program fee and estimated at $1,400.  A group flight option will be available.

Total Estimated Costs:

$1,235 Program Fee
$1,400 International Airfare (estimate)
$2,635 Total

Enrollment Deposit:

  • Students admitted into the program will be expected to pay a nonrefundable enrollment deposit of $500 within 2 weeks of acceptance to the program.  The enrollment deposit will be counted towards the course fee.

Scholarships and Financial Aid:

  • Students with financial need are encouraged to apply for funding.  Need-based scholarship assistance is available through Whitman Crossroads funding.  Both partial and full scholarships may be awarded.
  • Students will be notified of their aid awards in their course admission notification letter.