When Bryce Neal went off to attend college at the University of Maine at Farmington, his plan was to major in English. But the mountains of western Maine beckoned. He worked as an Americorps volunteer with the Maine Conservation Corps, building and maintaining trails on public lands and in state parks, and competed on the UMF Nordic ski team. After spending time outdoors and in the classroom, his interests shifted, and Neal decided to become a geology major.

This past summer, thanks to a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Neal worked at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, helping researchers measure magma chambers and super-heated water in the upper crust of the earth. This month he’ll head to New Orleans, where he’ll present some of his data to the American Geophysical Union Conference, which is sort of the Super Bowl of geology.

Neal, a senior at UMF, loved his time in Wyoming and isn’t quite sure what he’ll do when he graduates. “I definitely want to travel. But I think eventually I’ll come back to Maine.”

The mountains, it seems, still have a hold on him. “I’ve always been interested in how mountains are built and how they form. It can get really crazy,” he says, smiling, “because it’s really complex.”