Dorney spent seven weeks studying the North Anatolian Fault in Western Turkey to fulfill part of his undergraduate requirement. He called the experience “irreplaceable and priceless.”
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Three years, two degrees and one outstanding legacy
by Ken Kingery
While exploring rainforests in Olympic National Park, waterfalls in Hawaii and lakes in Glacier National Park, Liam Dorney always wondered what forces and processes were acting behind the beautiful scenes. Now, after three years at the University of Idaho earning both a bachelor's and master's in geology, he knows.
Dorney was born in Denver but soon moved to Calgary, Alberta. Always eager to return to the United States, he enlisted in the Navy directly out of high school in 1997. His nine-year career took him from New York to Bremerton to San Diego and Hawaii, while performing duties ranging from maintenance on aircraft carrier nuclear power generators to oversight of retrofitting fast attack submarines.
When he learned about the Navy’s Seamen to Admirals program that provides enlisted standouts an annual $10,000 for three years to go to college, he jumped at the opportunity.
“The University of Idaho is what I call the best sleeper university in the country; a diamond in the rough,” says Dorney, who chose Idaho over four other institutions of higher learning. “And both the geology department and Navy ROTC program are leaps and bounds ahead of most others.”
While stationed at Pearl Harbor, Dorney took several college courses at night on top of a 60-hour work week, all while making time for his wife and three children. The courses gave him a better shot at the scholarship, which he eventually earned. It is an opportunity he has not wasted.
While at the University of Idaho, Dorney met Professor Judy Parrish and learned of a summer research opportunity studying carbonate mounds at the Navajo Sandstone formation in Utah. Dorney and Parrish hope the mounds will reveal which ancient environmental processes caused a system of lakes to suddenly form for hundreds of years in the middle of a desert that was larger than the Sahara.
While in the field, Dorney discovered his experience could be applied toward a graduate degree. Not one to back down from a challenge, later that same summer, he applied and was accepted to a seven-week field study of the North Anatolian Fault located in Western Turkey, which would earn him six more credit hours in the field, and which are necessary to complete his undergraduate degree.
“The experience I gained was irreplaceable and priceless,” says Dorney. “Students from the University of Idaho were so much further ahead than other students there because the faculty here are among the country’s best. They really want to expose you to the geology, to get out and see it instead of spending all your time in a book.”
Dorney has spent the past year balancing both undergraduate and graduate courses, ROTC responsibilities, geology field trips and his family that now includes four children. He claims his two oldest are looking forward to returning to Moscow and “getting that legacy going.”
Even though his three years is technically up, the Navy is allowing him to remain in school for the summer to complete his graduate degree. Afterward, Dorney will be stationed in Augusta, Ga., where he will be deployed with various aircraft carriers and submarines to gather intelligence using the Arabic skills he acquired in night school in Hawaii. Meanwhile, he plans to attend local geology conferences regularly, and perhaps even begin work on his doctorate at the nearby University of South Carolina.
“I’ve accomplished a lot, but I hope to do more and more,” says Dorney. “But everything I’ve accomplished here at the University of Idaho could not have been done without the support of Captain Scott Rider and the geology faculty, especially Mickey Gunter and Judy Parrish. In an accelerated program, you don’t always hit the classes you need when you can fit them in your schedule, and everyone has gone out of their way to accommodate my schedule so I can graduate in three years.”
This photo was taken at the Naval Museum of Rhode Island.
Dorney spent nine years enlisted in the Navy before enrolling at the University of Idaho as part of the Seamen to Admirals program.
Dorney balances Naval duties, school and research expeditions with family life.
Pictured are three of his four children. From left to right is Kol (5), Lily Anna (4) and Hannah (10).