What Membership Means to Me
Mark Little, GSA President Elect (2021)
I first became aware of GSA when I was in graduate school at Rice University. My advisor identified GSA as a
possible source of funding for my research, so I became a member, applied for some grants, and then attended
two GSA conferences.
I have a lot of different interests. Rice has a public policy institute that I was involved with in grad
school, so when I finished my post doc, I applied for a number of different opportunities, including a
Congressional Science Fellowship. I won the GSA-sponsored position, which really began my substantive
relationship with the Society. It was a very good experience, and I remain friends with some of those
contacts to this day.
It was also the point in my career when I stopped doing geoscience as my work and started moving in other
directions. It’s interesting that when I got more involved with GSA, I got less involved in doing
I currently lead an economic development center at the Kenan Institute of the University of North Carolina.
We work for the benefit and on behalf of economically distressed communities—primarily in North and South
Carolina. Although we work with students and faculty, we don’t do formal teaching or research. We host
conferences and support some academic research related to economic development, but our core mission is “on
the ground” projects with local governments and businesses that will transform communities.
My career has allowed me to bring a scientific perspective to various non-scientific endeavors, and to bring
business experience to my leadership role at GSA. Volunteer and committee work with GSA has been very
helpful in understanding how large, complex organizations work—how different people experience a given
situation depending on their unique backgrounds and perspectives.
I’ve stayed engaged with GSA because I want to stay connected with the science. I go to the annual meetings
to hear details about the things I went to school for. I could go to conferences without being involved as a
volunteer, but I don’t think I would. Being involved is very motivating and then the scientific content is a
Different career stages will dictate how and how much people can and should be involved in their professional
organizations. Someone who is seeking tenure will likely have their hands full with publishing and
presenting at the annual meeting. Later on, one might find value in the committee opportunities that GSA
provides for leadership development. For me, the year after my Congressional Science Fellowship ended, I was
automatically enrolled into the Geology and Public Policy Committee. It was my “payback” for the opportunity
on Capitol Hill, and a nice bridge to the next chapter of my relationship with GSA.
There are a lot of ways that people who value science can contribute. From someone in industry, or a tenured
professor, to someone with an undergraduate geoscience degree who may not be working in the field, GSA
provides context for many different kinds of opportunities. One thing I wished I’d known about earlier in my
life are the summer GeoCorps opportunities—they look amazing!
My advice: Just take 20 minutes one day and go through the GSA website—there is a lot on there!
Mark Gabriel Little
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill