Dr. Cynthia Ebinger recalls always having liked the outdoors, but she knew she wanted to pursue science after getting involved in research. When she saw her first volcanic eruption, Dr. Ebinger says she knew she wanted to work in geoscience forever.
Now, Dr. Ebinger wants to inspire the same passion in her students. “I’ve had multiple students who’ve been on the side of the pool, sticking their toe in,” she said. They have a lot of interests, and “you try to explain that, throughout their career, they might do a whole range of things.”
Dr. Ebinger, the Marshall-Heape Chair Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, is currently working on five research projects, all of which involve graduate or undergraduate students. The projects study regions from New England to Kenya, Ethiopia, the U.K., New Zealand, and Malawi, to right back here in Louisiana. Dr. Ebinger said that, in research, a data set from one project might later be discovered to be useful in exploring a totally different research avenue. One of her projects, for example, involves monitoring the relationship between fracking in Northwest Louisiana and small earthquakes in the area. The data from that research is now available to be used in other experiments, including those conducted by her students. Samantha Hilburn, a senior Honors student, is now using the array in her Honors Thesis research to analyze seismic anistropy over the Gulf Coast and, in turn, to better understand plate motions that create regional structures.
Dr. Ebinger says that “trying to get students involved in research is really important to me. If anything, it gives them a chance to find out where their strengths and weaknesses are… and then they build self-confidence, in realizing mistakes are normal in research.” Investing in her students, in addition to being a primary teaching philosophy, builds the number of projects Dr. Ebinger is working on; she says that, if a student comes to her with an idea, they might return to a project that has been closed and try to expand on it, or use its data in a new way.
For Dr. Ebinger, getting students involved starts early. In her first-year Honors Colloquium, “Causes and Consequences of Sea Level Rise,” students are introduced to their new home in New Orleans and Southern Louisiana through the environment. Dr. Ebinger is passionate about mixing environmental and socioeconomic factors; not only does she discuss sea-level rise in the region with her first-year students, but she also asks students to consider the uneven implications of environmental decay in various social spheres, and how different communities are impacted by events in nature.
Dr. Ebinger plans to take her first-year class to Bayou St. John later this semester so they can take in their environment and get to know each other in a socially distanced way. By situating students at their new school in their new city early in their academic careers, Dr. Ebinger tries to help her students recognize the opportunities available to them, giving them three and a half more years to get involved in the community and create meaningful experiences.
All faculty interviewed recommend a book they find compelling and important.
Professor Ebinger recommends Katrina: A History, 1915–2015 by fellow Tulane professor Andy Horowitz. She says the book is extremely compelling, and directly relevant to the courses she teaches.