Geological and Environmental Sciences K-12 science education strengthened by community partnership

Vulcan Materials, the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates with a local office in Boone, N.C., has given over $61,000 to the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Appalachian State University, supporting the department in many ways for decades.

“They have truly donated thousands of dollars in personnel and equipment time to make projects and growth become a reality at Appalachian,” said Dr. Andrew Heckert, professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

In 2018-19, the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Appalachian reached over 5,000 school children through outreach events at over 34 schools and organizations with assistance from over 50 undergraduate students. The department has been awarded five outreach-specific grants ranging from $1500 - $62,000 with a predicted total of $100,000 for the year. Faculty and students from the department are committed to helping strengthen K-12 science education by fostering partnerships with schools, training teachers, involving students, highlighting faculty's research and advertising program offerings.

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Teachers taking part in one of the "Rockin' N.C." workshops, where they visited the Boone Vulcan Quarry to learn about field trip opportunities for their classes. Photo by Marta Toran.


Partnership with Vulcan Materials
Vulcan was a founding sponsor of the Fred Webb Jr. Outdoor Geology Laboratory. Of the first 30 specimens, 11 came from Vulcan facilities from three different states, and they've since contributed more. They not only donated specimens, they also transported these multi-ton rocks to Appalachian’s campus. The Boone quarry has been instrumental in helping the department with expansion and re-arranging the rock garden in the years since its creation, because their hoist truck literally does all the heavy lifting.

From 2007-10 they contributed a total of $20,000 for exhibits on “Geology, Economics, Mining and Society” located in Rankin Science, the building that houses the department on campus, which is why a tire from one of their trucks is prominently featured in the first floor hallway. In 2017-2018, they donated $21,500 for the Geobago and the "Rockin' N.C." Professional Development Workshop for K-12 teachers. This year, they have donated an additional $20,000 to fund two more “Rockin’ N.C.” teacher workshops with the goal of expanding the geographic reach of the teacher training. The workshops will be led by faculty and students from the department and hosted at Kaleideum North, in Winston-Salem and Discovery Place in Charlotte. The funds will also assist the department in continuing to provide Geobago visits to regional schools at no cost.

“Our partnership with Appalachian’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences is a perfect example of how we can leverage our resources and products with the educational and research talent of Appalachian to reach thousands of students each year,” says Denise Hallett, Community and Government Relations Manager with Vulcan. “We have a long history of hosting students for quarry tours at number of our 22 locations in North Carolina. Students get a live classroom lesson in earth and environmental science as they see a quarry in action providing important construction materials to their community. They also get to see how Vulcan manages the land through programs such as the N.C. Wildlife Federation’s “Wildlife and Industry Together” certification and Conservation Programs with The Wildlife Habitat Council.  The Geobago and “Rockin’ N.C.” Teacher Workshops at Appalachian are a perfect link between the teachers, students, community and Vulcan. We are excited to see these programs develop for the future.”

Senior double major in Geological and Environmental Sciences and Mathematics, Anton Hengst helps a student with the microscope in the Geobago during Fossil Day at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C. Photo by Marta Toran.

The Tools of Community Outreach
The Geobago is a mobile earth and environmental science teaching lab with the capabilities to teach water testing (field testing only, such as pH and conductivity), mineral identification and fossil identification. After the College of Arts and Sciences provided seed funding to get the Geobago wrapped with a graphic design and restored for use, Vulcan contributed funding to outfit the inside with microscopes, computers and a mini-laboratory space, along with modular storage for a variety of hands-on activities tied to N.C. standards. The Geobago mobile lab, which is staffed by Marta Toran, Outreach Coordinator and students from the department, has traveled near and far this school year to Durham, Gastonia, Hiddenite and other locations, and was featured at a variety of local events, including the North Carolina Science Festival.

“Because we have the Geobago, we are able to leverage it for more support, such as the EPA Environmental Education grant Marta received for the Water on the Move K-12 hydrology education program and the American Geophysical Union Centennial Grant for the PYES (Picture Yourself as an Earth Scientist) outreach project,’” said Heckert. 

"Rockin' N.C." educational materials were developed with the support of Vulcan Materials Company. These learning modules are intended to provide educators with ideas for teaching about the rock cycle and important minerals from North Carolina in an engaging, interactive way. A Rockin’ N.C. classroom kit includes: an educational board game, rock samples, everyday minerals, mineral test kits, Legos® to demonstrate how minerals form in igneous & sedimentary rocks, samples of North Carolina geological resources for varied classroom activities, modeling dough and a booklet with lesson plans for the unit.

The first “Rockin’ N.C.” workshop for fourth grade teachers took place in August 2018. Twenty participants representing ten different counties in North Carolina, some travelling as far as three hours, attended the one day professional development opportunity at Appalachian. The event was facilitated by Marta Toran, Dr. Andrew Heckert and students Annie Klyce and Brandon Yokeley and included a tour of the Boone Vulcan Quarry led by James Bear and Denise Hallett from Vulcan Materials Company.

The Water on the Move program includes a summer teacher workshop (to take place on July 23, 2019) and with a grant included stipends for teachers, Geobago visits to schools, subgrants for participating pilot schools, student intern salaries and conference travel to present project findings.

“Our partnership with Vulcan Materials Company and the support their Foundation has provided us, has been invaluable in expanding our outreach programs, especially in the past couple of years. Denise Hallett, Community and Government Relations Manager at Vulcan Materials Company, and I have worked together to develop high quality teacher workshops and classroom kits, and we discuss regularly new ways our partnership can continue to support science education in the region and beyond,” said Marta Toran, Outreach Coordinator, Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences.

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A budding geologist tries on the Vulcan safety gear during the Watauga Science PALS (Participating in Active Learning through Science) day. Photo by Marta Toran.

What is Vulcan Materials Company
Vulcan Materials Company is the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates—primarily crushed stone, sand and gravel—and a major producer of aggregates-based construction materials including asphalt and ready-mixed concrete. Their headquarters are in Birmingham, Alabama. As of 2017, Vulcan has 375 active aggregates facilities and over 120 facilities that produce asphalt and/or concrete, which also consume aggregates.

What Vulcan produces is used in nearly all forms of construction. In particular, large quantities of aggregates are used to build and repair valuable infrastructure such as roads, bridges, waterworks and ports, and to construct buildings both residential and nonresidential, such as manufacturing facilities, office buildings, schools, hospitals and churches. The Boone quarry provides aggregate for construction and drainage projects ranging from home to highway construction.

Vulcan is committed to serving and supporting the neighborhoods and communities where their employees live and work. Employees are encouraged to give back by volunteering their time and talents to help make their communities stronger. From 2009-18, Vulcan gave $49 million in community giving and support and partnered with 238 schools in 2018 alone.

For more information on community outreach, teacher education or campus visits, contact Marta Toran, Outreach Coordinator for the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences or visit

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Brandon Yokeley '19, Geology, Quantitative Geoscience major, shows a fourth grader the proper technique for breaking rocks.

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A fifth grader examines a water invertebrate in the Geobago during an environmental science session at his school in the Watauga County School System. Photo by Marta Toran.

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Appalachian Academy at Middle Fork Students Erik Mariche-Garcia, Rajanae Bethea and Tatiana Rowland at a Picture Yourself as a Geologist (PYES) outreach event, where students learn about careers in geoscience. Photo by Marta Toran.


About the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences
Located in Western North Carolina, Appalachian State University provides the perfect setting to study geological and environmental sciences. The Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences provides students with a solid foundation on which to prepare for graduate school or build successful careers as scientists, consultants and secondary education teachers. The department offers six degree options in geology and two degree options in environmental science. Learn more at

About Vulcan Materials Company
Vulcan Materials Company is an international producer of construction materials essential to the standard of living of advanced and developing societies. Their mission is to provide quality products and services which consistently meet customers’ expectations; to be responsible stewards with respect to the safety and environmental impact of their operations and products; and to earn superior returns for shareholders. To learn more about Vulcan Materials Company, visit

By Ellen Gwin Burnette
June 14, 2019 

An excited group of third graders participating in the
Published: Jun 14, 2019 11:04am