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Career Profiles

Martha Garcia


Martha Garcia is a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). She began her career with the USGS as a Geologic Field Assistant while in college. She has always been curious about nature and the hows and whys. Her parents encouraged her curiosity with their time and patience, books, and travel opportunities. A budding artist, Martha considered a career in commercial art. However, an aptitude test she took in high school indicated a strong inclination towards science and engineering and she was encouraged to take more science and math courses. After two years of high school geology from a memorable teacher, she was hooked. A scholarship from the American Institute of Mining Engineers (AIME) helped her earn a B.S. degree in geology and mathematics from Texas A&I University in 1980.

After graduation, she worked as a geologist in Corpus Christ, Texas for the Office of Marine Geology (OMG) of the USGS. She participated in research cruises that sampled deep basins in the Gulf of Mexico and the northern Atlantic coast. The samples were used to determine the strength of the sediments, information that helped to safely place telephone cables and drilling rigs offshore. She transferred to Denver, Colorado in 1981 to pursue graduate studies and to work in the Nuclear Weapons testing program (NWTP) of the USGS. Her present position requires that she evaluate the areas surrounding subsurface nuclear tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site (NTS), the proving ground for nuclear testing, to assure that radioactivity is not released into the atmosphere. Her studies are evaluated by a scientific panel that determines whether or not a test will be detonated. As a geologist on the NWTP, she has also participated on Joint Verification Activities between the United States and the former Soviet Union to establish "Trust but Verify" practices between the two nations. She is currently evaluating the origin of soil mounds observed at the NTS to decide if they were formed by seismic energy produced by the nuclear tests. Similar mounds have been observed elsewhere in the world and on other planets. Determining the origin of the mounds may aid in solving a geologic mystery.

Martha works on educational outreach programs that promote the geosciences to students and on human resource committees that promote the career development and enhancement of women and minorities in the USGS. She is also an active volunteer and board member of non-profit and civic groups in her local community. Although she and her husband, another geologist, are both busy, they spend as much time as possible being together and traveling with their two young children. Martha's son once remarked that he thought his mother knew everything. To put her to the test he asked her how the mountains were formed, and she was able to give him an answer. Martha is busy, but she can't imagine life without her family. She encourages you to take plenty of science and math courses, to include the humanities, and to be involved in your community. Exposure to a wide range of subjects gives you a proper menu from which to choose your life's path, the work in the humanities improves social and communication skills, and involvement in a community promotes leadership skills. Her advice is to ask questions, remain curious, strive to do your best, and use your resources wisely.