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DESLA Summer Camp at Bighorn Basin and Yellowstone

Waterfall in Yellowstone National Park

At the Drexel Environmental Science Leadership Academy in Bighorn Basin, Montana, and Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, high school students gain hands-on field experience, learn about the history of the planet and discover the processes that shape the landscapes around us today. This is an ideal adventure for students considering a degree in Geoscience.

The Bighorn Basin and Yellowstone National Park summer camp will be led by expert scientists from Drexel University’s Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES) and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, in collaboration with the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association.

Bighorn Basin & Yellowstone Curriculum and Schedule

Student looking for fossils

Students do not need to have any formal geology education to attend this Yellowstone National Park Summer camp. Attendees will be introduced to a wide range of topics in the geosciences and experience what it’s like to work in the field — which is a major component of geoscience research. Students will need to be prepared to work outside every day, whatever the weather, and experience the life of a researcher at the Yellowstone-Bighorn Research Association (YRBA) field camp.

Days 1-2

The first two days will be spent giving the students a basic introduction to the geosciences. On the first day students will learn how to identify rocks, take notes in their field books, and look for geologic features on a map. These skills will set them up for success in the rest of the course. The second day will be spent exploring the importance of water, from how it shapes the landscapes around us to investigating how communities in Montana access fresh drinking water. This part of the trip will be led by Marie Kurz, PhD, an assistant research professor from the Drexel BEES department and a senior scientist at the Academy of Natural Sciences whose research focuses on the role of water in ecosystems.

Days 3-4

In the middle of the week, we’ll drive out to Yellowstone National Park and spend two days learning why geysers erupt, what forms the mud pots, and how often bison can cause traffic jams! This part of the trip will be led by Loӱc Vanderkluysen, PhD, a volcanologist from the Drexel BEES department who has an active volcanology research program in Yellowstone.

Days 5-6

In the third part of the trip, we will take the students out to a dig site to do research with the Bighorn Basin Paleontological Institute. Here, students will get experience identifying rocks, finding fossils and learning about earth history. This part of the trip will be led by Jason Schein, director of the Institute and a specialist in dinosaur research!

Day 7

On the final day of the trip, students will go on a day-long capstone hike. The hike gives the students the opportunity to pull together all the information they’ve learnt over the previous 6 days including rock identification, geomorphology, and hydrology. The hike is also a great place for the students to showcase the teamwork and leadership skills they’ve developed through the program.

Travel and Lodging in Bighorn Basin & Yellowstone

This DESLA program takes place with the Bighorn Basin Paleontological Institute in Red Lodge, Montana, and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Cabin at Yellowstone Research Institute

Getting There

Students are responsible for getting themselves to the Billings Logan International Airport in Billings, Montana by 4 p.m. on August 1st, 2020. There, students will be greeted by the DESLA staff, and the adventure will begin!

Students will be dropped off at the Billings Airport on August 9th and are responsible for getting themselves back home again. Please do not book a flight that leaves Billings before 12pm on August 9th.  Note: DESLA tuition does not include the cost of airfare.

Lodging at YRBA Field Camp

Students will stay at the Yellowstone - Bighorn Research Association (YBRA) field station, near Red Lodge, Montana, for all but one night during the camp. The other night, we will stay in a hotel outside of Yellowstone National Park. Students will stay in basic cabins. There is a communal bathroom block and a main dining room where we’ll eat along with other students staying at the camp. There is no Wi-Fi and the phone signal is limited at the YRBA field camp, but the views are absolutely spectacular!


Camp Director: Katy Estes-Smargiassi, MA
Collections Manager, Invertebrate Paleontology, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Katy is an invertebrate paleontologist who has participated in field work all over the US, from Florida, to Utah, to Los Angeles. She currently manages the invert paleo collection at the Academy of Natural Sciences, which houses approximately one million fossil specimens. Her expertise is in Plio-pleistocene mollusks from the Eastern Pacific, and she is especially interested in the large-scale digitization of invertebrate paleontology collections. She also has a background working at summer camps.

Katy is very excited to be joining the DESLA program for the second time this year, this time as Camp Director! She’ll be happy to answer any questions that you have about the DESLA program in Montana and Wyoming. Email her at

Jason Schein

Paleontology Specialist: Jason Schein
Director of the Bighorn Basin Paleontological Institute

Jason is an explorer, educator and a massive fan of fossils. His background is in dinosaur research and he was part of the team that unearthed Dreadnoughtus, the second largest dinosaur ever discovered. Jason will be leading the Bighorn Basin part of the trip – he’s spent so many hours working at Bighorn, he knows where to find all the best fossils!

Loÿc Vanderkluysen, PhD

Volcanology Specialist: Loӱc Vanderkluysen, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science, Drexel University

Loӱc loves everything about volcanic systems from the generation of magma at depth, to the eruption of lavas at the surface. He uses a wide range of methods from monitoring volcanoes using drones, to looking at their chemistry. Loӱc will lead the Yellowstone National Park portion of the trip, giving students a unique opportunity to explore all the park has to offer with a true expert.

Marie Kurz, PhD

Environmental Geology Specialist: Marie Kurz, PhD
Assistant Research Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science, Drexel University
Senior Scientist, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Marie is really interested in water and her research encompasses everything from how it can shape landscape, to what chemicals it transports, and how it impacts ecosystems. Marie investigates water using a range of field methods including analytical chemistry, high-resolution sensors and fluorescent tracers. Marie will lead the hydrology and geomorphology portions of the trip, giving the students the opportunity to learn about the role of water at many different scales from someone who conducts cutting edge research in this area every day.

Questions about DESLA at Bighorn Basin & Yellowstone National Park? Email us at