Alumni Spotlight


Ben Cardenas
Awesome Alum: Ben Cardenas
December 2021

Meet Alumnus Dr. Ben Cardenas, a postdoc at Caltech and San Antonio native who graduated from UTSA with his BS in Geology in 2012. Ben found the geology program at UTSA, now renamed to Earth and Planetary Sciences, to be the perfect avenue to study Mars. In addition to the geology of other planets, he's always had an interest in science and mathematics. He values UTSA for its rich culture and unique undergraduate opportunities.

"As a Hispanic-serving institution, it's far more diverse than the other universities I've attended," said Ben. "That diversity is something that just doesn't exist at other institutions I've been involved with."

Cardenas' research encompasses the intersection of planetary geology, geomorphology, and sedimentology. The aim of his work is to better connect sedimentary dynamics with the rock record. He does this by examining ancient strata exposed in the field, whether it's on the surface of Mars with remote sensing data and active sedimentary systems, or on Earth's subsurface with 3D seismic volumes. He has more than 10 publications pertaining to these subjects and their application and has been widely recognized for his capability in and out of the field.

Cardenas found great value in the fact that most of the geology courses he took at UTSA had field work components. During his time at UTSA, Ben has collaborated and contributed to projects with faculty members Hongjie Xie and Judy Haschenburger, his undergrad research advisors. "I think those two projects not only got me into graduate school at UT Austin but also played a central role in the sort of research I do today," he explains.

After earning his BS, Ben attended the Jackson School of Geosciences at UT Austin, where he wrote his dissertation "The Accumulation and Preservation of Fluvial and Aeolian Strata" and earned his master's and PhD in Geosciences. Shortly after his graduation in 2019, he started as a postdoc at Caltech. Earlier this year, he was awarded the National Science Foundation's Earth Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowship to remain at Caltech.

Cardenas' experiences at UTSA have encouraged him to stress the importance of taking one step at a time. He feels that among the most notable of his learnings were the patience and consistency that prepared him to pursue his master's and PhD. "I graduated from UTSA with the right mix of experiences that I felt prepared me to work for the next step towards an academic career."

To new students interested in his major, Ben offers the following advice: "I'd encourage any Geology or STEM student to lose their fear of being wrong! The quicker you do that, the quicker you can practice working with your peers to make observations, discuss interpretations of those observations, and really dig into the best parts of being a scientist."

Most recently, Dr. Cardenas has accepted an Assistant Professor position at Penn State (The Pennsylvania State University) and will start July of 2022.

Follow Ben on Twitter at @BenoftheSand to stay up to date with his future projects.


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