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Congratulations to our graduating PhD students


Congratulations to our graduating Ph.D. students! 

We are so proud of your accomplishments and to call you alumni of our Department.

Austin Gaynor
Degree: Ph.D. in Geosciences
Thesis title:"Body and Surface Wave Tomography of West Antarctica and Southern Africa: Implications for Lithospheric Architecture, Tectonic Development, and Geodynamics"
Advisor: Andrew Nyblade

Austin White-Gaynor arrived at Penn State in August 2013 after completing his BS is geosciences at Virginia Tech.  For his MS thesis, which he completed in 2015, Austin investigated seismic anisotropy in the upper mantle beneath northcentral U.S. using shear-wave splitting measurements.   Austin’s Ph.D. thesis involved seismic imaging of the upper mantle to investigate the origin of Cenozoic rifting, volcanism and plateau uplift in West Antarctic and southern Africa.  Austin completed his PhD in November 2019, and is now working as a data scientist in New York.   Although not part of his PhD thesis, Austin also worked on developing new ways to discriminate seismic events recorded at local distance using seismic data from South African gold mines, and he held summer internships at the Air Force Research Lab and the Los Alamos National Lab working on similar problems.  Austin participated in several field seasons on the “ice”, helping construct and operate the POLENET seismic network in West Antarctica.  In addition, he assisted with the AfricaArray summer REU program in 2018, and played lead roles in the 2013-2014 PASEIS field project and the 2018 Shale Hills seismic experiment.  In recognition of this accomplishments, Austin received the Richard Standish Good Scholarship and the Dr. Gabriel and Mrs. Katherine Leblanc Fellowship.

Allison T. Karp
Degree: Ph.D. in Geosciences
Thesis title: “The role of fire ecology in vegetation change during the Neogene: New
applications of molecular and isotopic proxies for vegetation burning in the paleorecord”Advisor: Kate Freeman 

Dr. Karp joined our graduate program in the fall of 2015, after completing her A.B. in Biology and Environmental Earth Science from Washington University, St. Louis. She was the recipient of NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and numerous departmental awards, including the Knopf, Tait, Alley and Standish Good Fellowships. She completed the Urbino Summer School in Paleoclimatology (2017) and the Isotope Ecology summer course (“Isocamp”) at the University of Utah (2016). During the course of her studies, Dr. Karp conducted research at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (Columbia University), Curtin University (Perth), and the University of Adelaide. She also cored paleolake sediments in Dalmatia (Croatia) and she completed AAUS scientific diver training. She has given invited presentations at the GSA Annual Meeting, University of Michigan, University of Adelaide, as well as Earth System Science Center at PSU. Dr. Karp has been active in both AWG and WE ARE for Science.

In her graduate research, Dr. Karp developed new understanding of polycyclic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as indicators of past wildfires. This involved new analyses of burned residues and a compilation and multivariate analysis of published data. She used understanding gained from these studies to show that fire facilitated the expansion of C4 grasslands in the late Miocene and early Pliocene in south Asia, but its effects were muted in Australia, likely due to the pronounced fire ecology of pre-existing vegetation.

Dr. Karp is headed to Yale University in September 2020, where she will be a Postdoc in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology under the supervision of Dr. Carla Staver.

Erica Pitcavage

Degree: Ph.D. in GeosciencesThesis: "Geochemical Investigations of Continental Rift Magmatism: A case Study in East Africa's Western Rift"
Adviser: Tanya Furman  

Erica Pitcavage came to Penn State in 2014. She graduated from Whitman College with a BA in Geosciences in 2011, where she carried out research on the effects of soil chemistry variations on vineyards of the Columbia Basin, Washington. She subsequently worked as an environmental consultant, and then saw the light of graduate school shining in her future. While at Penn State, Erica received the Hiroshi and Koya Ohmoto Research Scholarship in 2018, the Richard Standish Good graduate scholarship in 2017, the Barry Voight Volcano Hazards scholarship in 2017, the Leblanc fellowship in 2016 and the Knopf memorial scholarship in 2015. Her research has taken her on field work in Rwanda and Kenya.

Erica’s research focused on a suite of mafic lavas from southwestern Uganda, where she wrangled complex geochemical data to determine their petrogenetic history. Her contributions include new understandings of lithospheric removal in active zones of continental rifting. During her time at Penn State, Erica co-developed new dissolution techniques for major and trace element analysis, and mastered the electron microprobe. She also conducted isotopic analysis at the Carnegie Institutions in Washington DC as well as high-precision Ar-Ar dating of tiny fragments of basaltic groundmass and He isotopic analysis on olivine grains at Oregon State University. She is currently a post-doctoral scholar and TIMS lab manager at the University of Houston.

Dr. Pitcavage is an outstanding teacher and logistician as well, serving as head TA for field camp groups of over 50 students in the summers of 2017 and 2018.  She also traveled to South Africa as an assistant instructor for an REU experience under the auspices of AfricaArray in 2015. Erica received the departmental Graduate Teaching Assistant Award in 2017.

In addition to her devotion to research and teaching, Erica is an accomplished long-distance runner. She competed in several marathons, and captained the Rothrocks for Jocks relay team for the Rothrock Mountainback 50-mile ultramarathon.






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