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Geology professor diamond in the rough

February 7, 2008

William Cordua, professor of geology at UW-River Falls, is, himself, what he says he loves best about the rocks he avidly hunts: a diamond in the rough.

The average student taking one of his general geology courses may have a hard time cracking his rough exterior, as senior geology major Patti Roettger can attest.

“He’s hard,” Roettger said, “He demands a lot, but he’s not unreasonable.”

“But for people who share his passion, Cordua is great,” Roettger said. “It’s easy to see his zeal for the subject. Cordua is quick to describe his field as a treasure hunt.”

“Every rock you crack open, no one’s ever looked at that before,” Cordua said.

He described the excitement he felt as a child growing up the Washington, D. C. area, searching for his buried treasure.

“I was a rock hound,” Cordua said. “There was the excitement of going out into nature, finding something neat and then asking what does it mean and how was it formed?”

“I found a little gold in Montana once,” Cordua said. “Even a geologist thinks that’s neat.”

The passion of Cordua’s childhood remains evident in his work through the University. Roettger has volunteered with him at rock shows where children can bring in rocks to be identified.

“It was great,” Roettger said. “He knows a lot and he’s really great with the kids.”

His passion reaches not only young treasure hunters, but the students in his classroom.

“He really tries to engage everybody,” Roettger said.

“He’s helpful, he pays attention and he knows so much. He’s helpful outside of class, too. Like rocks you’ll bring in, he’ll never hesitate to talk with you about stuff.”

An eager teacher, Cordua doesn’t limit his enthusiasm to the upper level courses.

“I really like general courses. You can look at so many different topics, the whole planet, the canvas is so wide.

It’s taking the general student to show interest in something important about the planet.”

Cordua’s current project is a geological atlas of Pierce County—specifically the Rock Elm Meteor Structure, which he says is the most difficult portion of geology.

450 million years ago a meteorite, Cordua said was the size of Lambeau Field, crashed in Pierce county creating complex rock formations in the area. Cordua had been studying this area on his own for a long time when he was asked to contribute to a map of bedrock in the area that could help with land planning, developments and ground water. The map covers the whole of Pierce County, but can be narrowed in to a specific individual’s land.

“I’m excited that this is coming out so people can see it and use it,” Cordua said.

He has devoted much of his time to benefiting the public. Cordua’s involvement in the community does not end with his investigation of the meteor site, though having written, in his estimate, over 100 articles for consumption on the general level, created Web sites to help inform the general public about minerals and donated his time to create a driving tour of minerals in Pierce County.

“The University encompasses the state, the nation, not just the school,” Cordua said. “They should benefit from things we do here, things that go into the community.”

In the future Cordua hopes to attend a conference in Oslo, Norway, where he would present his research regarding the meteor but he says he won’t know officially until March.

Animatedly discussing his work in the community, Cordua sat in a classroom surrounded by rocks, posters of minerals and rock formations, the treasures to which he’s devoted much of his life.

Eager to convey the captivating nature of his finds, Cordua rushes across the room to pick up a dark grey, rough rock. He turns it over revealing a gash of bright pink on the underbelly.

“Boom! You’ve got pink,” Cordua said. “That’s really pretty.”