How camping led Geology Professor Leslie Campbell to a career

Caroline Gordon / THE GATEPOST

On a cool, late summer afternoon, prior to starting elementary school, Geology Professor Leslie Campbell walked across a small cable bridge in a Pennsylvania state forest while on a camping trip with her family. She gazed curiosity at the water and pebbles beneath her. 

She wondered, “How could something like this come to be the way it is today?” 

Campbell grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. Although she was not part of environmental extracurriculars in middle school or high school, she regularly visited a metropark, a place she said furthered her passion for the outdoors. 

She attended Youngstown State University as a commuter student. 

Campbell said Youngstown State felt familiar because many of her high-school classmates attended. 

Initially, Campbell wanted to study engineering. 

“Not that I didn’t know geology was an option – I just didn’t know it was an option for me,” she said. 

Campbell said engineering would force her to be “stuck inside doing the same thing over and over again.” 

She began taking geology classes for her minor and said she “made the switch pretty easily.”

Campbell said, “Career counselors would say, ‘Everyone who studies engineering is guaranteed a job,’ and while I think it is important to find a field where you will be offered a position, I felt swayed. It took me a minute to say, I like engineering, but geology is my passion.” 

Campbell said the geology department at Youngstown State was a close-knit community. During her time as an undergraduate student, Campbell and her classmates took a field trip to the Finger Lakes and a Morton Salt Mine underneath Lake Erie. 

She said the most significant field trip of her undergraduate education was Field Camp, an outdoor course for students earning bachelor of science degrees, because it was an opportunity that applies laboratory and classroom education to solving geologic problems in the field. 

Campbell chose a Field Camp where students were able to travel. She said her group “did a big loop across the Southwest.” 

“Field Camp was intense, but it was an eye-opening experience that was a lot of fun,” she said. 

Campbell noted the most difficult part of Field Camp was being away from home, but the traveling pushed Campbell out of her comfort zone and prepared her for her next adventure – one that was permanent. 

After completing Field Camp and graduating with a bachelor of science degree from Youngstown State, she moved across the country to Boston College. 

Campbell said she did not believe teaching was the career path for her, but during graduate school, she was offered a National Science Foundation Grant to educate K-12 students across Massachusetts about geology and seismology. 

“I would talk to students, teachers, and parents about seismology and geology as a tool for helping people understand science in general. That’s where it all started,” she said. 

Once the grant money ran out, she made the shift from teaching in K-12 schools to teaching as a professor as she “was looking for something different.” 

She began teaching at FSU in 2012, and has taught physical geology, oceanography, and Conversations With The Earth. Currently, she only teaches physical geology. 

Campbell explained her favorite part of teaching is helping students realize they can understand science.

“When I see students in an introductory geology course, I hear them say they are not good at science. I like to show people they are capable. You can do anything as long as you try,” she said. 

Campbell said she chose to teach at FSU because she attended a state university. 

“I think it is really important to offer a great education at a reasonable price – I like to be part of that,” she said. 

Campbell said the most difficult part of teaching has been navigating the pandemic as learning geology from Zoom is a challenge. 

When she is not teaching, Campbell works at The Vin Bin, a wine store in Hopkinton. She has been working at The Vin Bin selling wine since Fall 2018. 

Campbell said wine is similar to geology as there are “lots of applicable aspects in the wine world for geology.” 

She said, “When I read the descriptions, tasting notes, and information we get from importers and different vineyards, I can understand the soil and map where the wines came from. Having a background in geology and understanding climatic and weather patterns helps decode what I am looking at.” 

With a grin, Campbell said geology is a subject she has always been passionate about. 

“Geology is a fun way to be able to connect with nature. Geology is science all around you,” she said. 

Campbell added, “Being able to make sense of the natural world, even in a small way, is important and interesting.” 

Like many FSU students, Campbell is a first-generation college student. She said in order to walk across the graduation stage, students should be present in the classroom. 

“If you are there and focused, that’s when you’re truly engaged,” said Campbell. 

“It means something when you get that degree,” she said. 

“I’m happy where I ended up.”