Morehead State geology student Ashton Killen working at KGS this summer
Ashton Killen, originally from the small town of Proctorville, Ohio, across the river from Huntington, W.Va., took a challenging path toward becoming a geology major and math minor at Morehead State University. “I became infatuated with geology when I was about 10 years old,” she says. “I loved geology. I wanted my whole room done in rock because I’d always loved rocks, and, of course, I wanted to be a geologist.”
But she says she was plagued with doubts about a geology career because of issues with math and science during her high school years. She thought she just wasn’t “smart enough.” But several people pushed her to believe in herself, including a high school trigonometry teacher, a karate instructor who was also a geologist, and her parents. “My dad always said, ‘If you can read and comprehend what you read, you can do anything you want.’” She remembers taking a cave tour at Carter Caves State Park during her high school senior year, and the female tour guide, who had just graduated with a geology degree from Morehead, urged Killen to apply to the school. “Without her encouragement, I wouldn’t have known about Morehead’s geology program, and I have no idea where I would be today.”
She followed the tour guide’s advice, was accepted at Morehead, and now finds herself one of two MSU students working for the summer at KGS as part of their geology studies. She had met KGS Director Bill Haneberg and landslide researcher Matt Crawford at a Geological Society of America meeting and discussed an internship at the Survey. She works with Crawford on his federally funded landslide project in the Big Sandy Area Development District of eastern Kentucky, digitizing landslide extents and making a landslide-susceptibility map for Magoffin County. Her work will serve as a template for interpreting information from other counties in the project area.
Her involvement in the landslide project is particularly satisfying because she remembers landslides and rockfalls from an outcrop in her mother’s hometown, Moundsville, W.Va., that killed one person. “I thought, ‘I want to do something like that. I want to learn about landslides and help prevent them from damaging infrastructure and injuring or killing people,’” Killen, who wants to be a geological engineer, says. “So this is the first step, learning why they’re happening and what’s going on with them.”