Al Weik: Portrait of a scholar-athlete

Earth & Environmental Sciences Geosciences Health, Exercise, and Sport Studies
April 11, 2014

Al Weik, a senior from Lebanon, Pa., is a man with feet in two different worlds.

By day, he works and studies in Denison’s Olin Science Hall on his senior research project for his geosciences major. In the evening (and in the wee hours of the morning), he’s in the Mitchell Center pool, stacking up the miles that led him to nine NCAA Division III championships. And both of these worlds have shaped his future.

“Since I started collecting rocks as a kid, I’ve always been curious, maybe overly curious, about geology,” says Weik. He is especially drawn to paleobiology, which is essentially the study of ancient life through geologic history.

Last summer, Weik worked with Associate Professor David Goodwin as an Anderson Research Scholar on a project to assess the human impact on the Gulf of California. Weik was part of a team that collected more than 100,000 specimens from the delta region of the Colorado River, which he then sorted by morphotype and by species. He was able to present his findings to the Geological Society of America, and now he’s incorporating the samples and data into his senior project, titled “The Anthropogenic Impact on the Sediment Record of the Gulf of California.”

Working with Goodwin, Weik learned that statistics are a compelling force to understand the geologic processes that were in place millions of years ago. Goodwin even taught Weik how to write his own computer programs to harness that statistical power, which enabled him to portray an accurate paleogeologic landscape of his senior project.

“Since I started collecting rocks as a kid, I’ve always been curious, maybe overly curious, about geology.”

However, as much as he likes to dig in to geoscience, Weik also has devoted plenty of time to the water.

In March, 2014, Weik chalked up his eighth and ninth career national championships with wins in the 500 freestyle and the mile at the National NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships. This was his third consecutive win in the 500, which he took with a time of 4:24.31. Weik also owns the NCAA record time in this event, 4:21.79.

Looking back over his four years of swimming at Denison, Weik can see that his tenure on the team has done more for him than to simply improve his race times.

“Swimming has taught me so much—about time management, about working hard, and about how to conduct myself as an adult, with honesty and integrity,” says Weik. “Coach Parini has given me lessons that I know I haven’t even recognized yet, but they’ll be there when I need them.”

And then there are the lifelong friends he’s made. “I’ve spent so much time with my teammates. We’ve been together five hours a day in the pool, through intense and sometimes even painful workouts,” he says. “They will be my best friends for the rest of my life.”

After graduation, Weik plans to move to British Columbia to do geotechnical work for a gold prospecting company. He’ll be living right next to a glacier, taking samples and analyzing them. It seems he’s found a way to incorporate both his worlds, studying geology, surrounded by water.