Photo of Mara Brady

Mara Brady
Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2012

Assistant Professor
Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences
California State University, Fresno
2576 E. San Ramon Ave., Mail Stop ST-24
Fresno, CA 93740
Tel.  (559) 278-2948
Fax. (559) 278-5980

Office: Science II 128


Sedimentology & Stratigraphy, Taphonomy, Quantitative Stratigraphic Methods, Paleobiology

Teaching Interests & Philosophy:
My goal in the classroom is to make science accessible to all students so that they can appreciate, interpret, and evaluate scientific findings, and then carry that ability throughout their life, regardless of their past educational experience or future career pursuits.  I achieve this goal by (1) encouraging and acknowledging the value of student inquiry, (2) highlighting that there is often more than one acceptable response to an exercise or problem, and (3) challenging students to use their own skills, knowledge, and the tools available to engage in course material. I enjoy working with students at multiple levels from introductory geoscience courses, interdisciplinary general education courses, to upper level geology major courses to topical graduate seminars. As a faculty member, I regularly involve undergraduates in authentic field and research experiences as part of course work and independent student theses. I continue to develop and strengthen my teaching skills through participating in several faculty learning communities, attending professional development workshops, and participating in and leading course re-design efforts across campus.

Courses Taught and Developed at Fresno State

  • EES102: Sedimentology (geology major course)
  • EES107: Advance Field Methods (geology major course)
  • EES122: Stratigraphy (geology major elective course)
  • EES150T: Intro to Petroleum Geology (geology major elective course)
  • EES232: Basin Analysis (graduate seminar)
  • NSCI115: Environmental Earth and Life Science (GE IB)
  • EES9: Introduction to Earth Science (required for Liberal Studies majors)
  • CSM10: The Scientific Method (part of the inaugural CSM FYE year-long program)
  • CSM15: Evidence-Based Decision Making (part of the inaugural CSM FYE year-long program)
  • Dynamic Earth (METRO Geosciences, Continuing & Global Education, in-service teachers)

Program Involvement:

  1. College of Science and Mathematics First Year Learning Community: Building Opportunities through Networks of Discovery (BOND). Recent report and articles about this project: Equal Measures Vignette, Accelerating Change in Higher Education
  2. Kremen School of Education Liberal Studies Strategic Teacher Education Partnership
  3. Fresno State DiscoverE Tablet Program

Research Interests:
The driving force behind my sedimentary research is a desire to identify and account for variations in the quality of sedimentary records across space and time.  My research integrates sedimentological and paleontological data to develop a better understanding of the controls on the preservation of geologic and fossil records.  Grounded in original field-collected data, my research aims to create a quantitative framework for interpreting, analyzing, and comparing these records across disparate geologic settings and time periods.  I have dedicated significant efforts to investigating Devonian (~385 million year old) carbonate-dominated, marine records. Nonetheless, I am also interested in investigating similar questions in younger, terrestrial, and modern environments.

To that end, during my time at Fresno State, I have broadened my research areas to include modern, geologically Recent, siliciclastic, and terrestrial records in the Central Valley and surrounding areas. These research directions represent important contributions to the broad field of sedimentary geology and have the added benefit that local field areas require less travel and are therefore, more amenable to student involvement in research through theses as well as integration into classroom assignments and projects.

I view collaboration with student researchers as an integral aspect of my research program. I appreciate not only the value of training future scientists, but also the benefit of working with inquisitive student minds – they challenge my own thinking, require me to communicate effectively, and help me to refine my own research methods and questions. To date I have advised six master’s student research projects and fourteen undergraduate student research projects. As a mentor, I provide regular opportunities for discussion, instill confidence in each student’s abilities, while also providing honest constructive feedback.  To foster the development of independent researchers, I give students the space to personally formulate hypotheses and targeted research questions, so that students gain confidence in determining their research directions and take ownership of their own work.  I have encouraged and had success with students applying for funding where available, presenting their research at annual conferences, and developing their theses into publishable manuscripts. These research collaborations have contributed to students developing skills to pursue a range of career opportunities, from K-12 science teaching, higher education, environmental and petroleum industries, to federal agencies and geological surveys.

Beyond the classroom, I have extended my scholarship of teaching to include dissemination of work done at Fresno State at state, national, and international venues.These scholarly pursuits include preparing future elementary science teachers, improving science workforce training and interdisciplinary learning through course-based research projects that inform campus sustainability practices, and improving retention rates of science and math students through the development of a freshman learning community.

Current Research Projects

(1)   Investigating the Paleobiological and Environmental Consequences of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum in Continental Margin Records (three year project supported by a grant from the David B. Jones Foundation, $103,783). Project Collaborator: Dr. Aric Mine

The Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) represents one of the most rapid global climate change events in the geologic record with dramatic biological consequences. This project investigates the biological response to this event and associated environmental feedbacks preserved in exceptional continental shelf records. Student researchers will examine the fossil, geochemical, and sedimentological records of the PETM, resulting in publications, presentations, and course-based research and lab activities. We are actively recruiting undergraduate and graduate students for paid research assistantships.

(2)   Quantitative Stratigraphy & Taphonomy of Devonian Marine Carbonates

Our research in deep-time geologic records uses field-collected data on depositional environments, stratigraphic surfaces, and invertebrate skeletal concentrations to compare Devonian tropical marine deposits from the thin continental interior record of Iowa to the three to seven times thicker continental margin record of Nevada.

  • Masters Student Researcher Magaly Perez: Taphonomy of Brachiopod Deposits from Devonian Carbonate Records
  • Masters Student Researcher Ryan Mitchum: Quantifying sea level changes in shallow marine Devonian carbonate records from sedimentary basins characterized by different subsidence rates
  • Undergraduate Thesis Researcher Gabe Valov: records: contrasting patterns at different spatial and temporal scales

(3)   Investigating the Ecological, Sedimentological, and Geochemical Impacts of Dredging and Beach Nourishment in Morro Bay, CA. Project Collaborators:Dr. Joshua Reece (PI), Dr. Beth Weinman, Dr. Eric Person, Dr. Aric Mine

Morro Bay is a Central California community and natural harbor with an inlet that has been modified in such a way that the harbor must been dredged regularly to keep it deep enough for boat traffic. The region contains a prominent harbor, with the iconic Morro Rock at its mouth, a sand peninsula that extends 6 km to the South for and sandy coastline for 4 km North. Dredged sand from the harbor is deposited regularly on a single site 1 km north of the harbor. We are assessing historical changes in beach width as a function of climate change and erosion/sea-level rise, the effects of dredge dumping (beach nourishment) on sedimentology and sediment biogeochemistry, and the responses of beach invertebrates and shorebirds. Our goal is to determine if beach nourishment can be executed without harming natural communities, and whether the deposition of sand buffers beaches from erosion due to climate change and sea-level rise. This research will also contribute to our understanding of carbon storage in coastal environments, where harbor sediments are an important carbon sink. Our project involves three departments and five faculty members with up to 5 courses of student researchers per year; in the first 12 months of this project we have already incorporated 121 student researchers in our project. Our project can help inform patterns of beach response to sea-level rise and how dredging and other forms of beach nourishment can be used in California’s mitigation efforts. Our project provides local benefits to a community that depends on both the harbor and ecotourism from its rich natural communities of coastal species. This project impacts the more than 10,000 residents of Morro Bay, its estimated 20,000 annual tourists, and nearby local communities that utilize sandy beaches such as San Luis Obispo (population > 250,000).

(4)   Broadening Participation and Cultivating Student Success in STEM Fields

As we become more aware of societal change and the role that higher education plays in helping prepare for and shepherding in a better future, broadening participation and increasing student persistence in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is critical to supporting a diverse, talented, and creative workforce. PCAST (2012) called for new teaching methods to “catalyze and inspire” change and open new pathways in our college courses.  Now, we are at the point where broadening STEM participation hinges on expanding successful evidence-based teaching methods that have been proven effective in reducing achievement gaps while simultaneously increasing STEM persistence, which is increasingly important for the next generation of our culturally and technologically shifting workforce (NASEM, 2011; 2006).

We have developed an implemented a first year learning community in the College of Science and Mathematics to support student self efficacy and sense of belonging as they transition to college and pursuing STEM degrees and careers (Building Opportunities Through Networks of Discover, BOND). We are currently investigating how the experience and outcomes of students that participate in BOND compare to other freshmen that enter the College of Science and Mathematics.

Preliminary results: Compared to propensity-score match control groups, BOND students have significantly higher STEM persistence (64% vs. 51% retained into sophomore year) and BOND students from underrepresented minority and first generation college backgrounds have no significant differences in persistence compared to their peers (whereas these gaps persist in the control group). BOND students report a greater sense of community in their learning community courses than other STEM courses and have completed more credits towards their degree compared to the control group.

Recent report and article about this project: Equal Measures Vignette, Accelerating Change in Higher Education

Complete CV (PDF file)