Despite having majored in geology, Becky Roberts ’09 never expected to find herself wriggling on her belly through karst caves deep in an Alaskan island.
But she did that and much more during her summer as a GeoCorps worker in the Tongass National Forest.
Roberts, an Alaska native, had never been to this rain forested part of the state. She spent a summer on Prince of Wales Island, just off the panhandle of Alaska, near Ketchikan. She and another summer worker were charged with making a database of the island’s caves.
“It was a really cool job,” says Roberts. “We were using data made by unofficial cavers and refinding those caves and finding some new ones.” The duo was charged with getting GPS locations of island caves, along with taking photos of caves entrances and surroundings. Finding the caves wasn’t easy in this temperate rainforest, not all of which has been logged. “We did tons of bush whacking,” Roberts laughs. “Sometimes we hiked for hours to get to the caves.” Ultimately they refound 90 caves and discovered a few more, which they got to name.
Although they weren’t required to, Roberts and her partner frequently entered the caves, sometimes dropping down using ropes or crawling on their stomachs to reach their destinations. Once while exploring the island’s largest cave, they had to quickly backtrack because the deeper parts of the cave were filling up with water from the area’s abundant rainfall.
GeoCorps is like a geological version of AmeriCorps. The organization takes on all levels of geoscientists for temporary jobs in the national parks and forests throughout the United States. Roberts’ new info in the database now can be used and added to by biologists, Park Service employees, and others working on the island.
Despite her love for geology, Roberts is now following a different Macalester-born dream. She has been nominated to enter the Peace Corps as an environmental educator, to be placed somewhere in Latin America. “Mac was really instrumental in getting me interested in international culture,” says Roberts, who has twice been to Uganda to visit a college friend and also has volunteered in Mexico and back home in Alaska with East African and Nepalese immigrants.