Sarah Gelman, Class of 2005
Senior Geologist, ExxonMobil
What are you doing now? How did you get here?
You never know in high school where you are going to land. After graduating Weber, I went to MIT to study Earth and Planetary Sciences. In high school, I was very interested in space, astronomy, rocket science, or astrophysics. I was very interested in math at Weber and wanted to major in Physics or Math/Philosophy. At one point during my time at MIT, I went on a field trip to Yellowstone Park from the geoscience department and enjoyed learning about volcanoes. I still enjoyed space, so I merged the planetary aspect with the geology aspect. I learned a lot of earth-based geosciences, but my senior thesis was on Earthlike Extra Solar Planets (planets around other stars outside of our solar system).
After MIT, I wanted to go to graduate school and choose what would be super-epic or awesome --volcanoes or earthquakes? I chose volcanoes. I enrolled at the University of Washington to study, research, and teach from 2009-2014. I published several papers, performed research in Chile, and followed my advisor to Zurich for additional research for six months. During the summer of 2014, I worked as an intern at Exxon Mobil in Houston, focusing on Geology in the Caribbean, specifically Trinidad and Tobago. The internship turned into a job offer. I am now a Senior Geologist within the research part of the company. I look at offshore seismic and well data, but typically you cannot walk on it or look at it.
In graduate school, I studied how heat moves through solid earth, and I became proficient at studying the heat equation. How long will magma stay molten versus how long will it take to freeze? Basically, what is the interplay of the storage of molten rock in the subsurface versus eruptions? Now, I try to understand when organic materials (dinosaurs) get buried deep enough by sediment and begin to heat up, how much does it heat up before it becomes oil and gas? I try to understand that when organic material is buried, matures, and produces oil and gas, where will that oil and gas go?. I am involved with a new of frontier exploration and advise people all over the world. As scientists, we don’t know very much about this area but want to manage uncertainty and make predictions about what is possible based quantifiable data.
How did Weber help set you on your path?
It set me up academically and personally. Due to my experience with Weber Town Halls -- which were challenging, controversial, and without a right answer -- I am not afraid to offer my opinion when asked complicated questions, to offer a diverse opinion, and to express and form well thought out opinions. I also enjoyed the community building aspect of the school - meeting people, caring about one another, and creating a tight-knit group through activities like Shabbaton and Peace by Piece. I work with a diverse group in my office, people from the Middle East and North America, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and I credit Peace by Piece with the beginnings of understanding and relating to different people. These are experiences that are not normally offered to young people.
How did Weber inform your Jewish Life?
I learned a lot about our religion at Weber which has traveled with me. What also has traveled with me is a certain amount of practice, but also a desire to share and learn with everyone around me. I tend to be in communities that are very diverse religiously. Having a sense of the diversity of the way we all interface with our religion is something that I am not just exposed to but am proud of what Weber taught me.
I also believe that volunteering is teaching with your heart. Weber gave me a little more heart out of classes, and more openness than your average high school would give you.
Living in Houston, how did the Hurricane affect you?
I live in the Heights. We only had street flooding but no damage. The days afterward, I volunteered in Braised Bayou, the center of the Jewish Community. I became close to a family I helped. The experience was rewarding, but at the same time, devastating.
What is your fondest Weber memory?
Not coming from a religious family, I really enjoyed Shabbaton. There were some moments that were so vibrant that it would be some of the closest I have ever had to having a truly emotional spiritual experience. They were full of life, love, and community.
As an alum, what advice would you give to recent Weber graduates?
Life is an adventure told in chapters (5-year packages or less) with a bunch of chapters you don’t even know about. Be inspired by all the chapters ahead; you have no idea where they are, and do not overlook opportunities that are in front of you. If you’re open-minded and you have a generic toolset, then you are well poised to try almost anything.
What is it like to be a female scientist today?
Super optimistic view: As a female scientist, I can state there are lots of opportunities for women and minorities. At MIT and ExxonMobil, there is an encouragement to apply. It does not mean special treatment, just encouragement. It’s not just for the sake of diversity; it is because having more opinions and different ways of thinking opens lots of doors that we might otherwise not realize are there.
Pragmatic view: Men and women work, think, and interact differently in subtle ways. Women scientists meet people all over the world and have plenty of opportunities to succeed in many areas of the world. I hope women feel empowered in school that they can succeed in math and sciences, have a family, be any religion, and accomplish a lot. Think of your career as limitless and open.