Ask any geologist: if something has strength and staying power, it is frequently built on a rock-solid foundation. So, it goes to follow that when a group of geologists joined forces to give back to their alma mater, they knew how to lay down a formidable base of philanthropy, one that will significantly shore up fundraising efforts.

Such is the promising start of the Geology Alumni Endowed Fund, the brainchild of three Houston-based alumni. The fund was established by Emily Sekula ’05, Michael Passarello ’08 and Karen Black ’10, all geology majors who collectively pledged the requisite amount to establish an endowed fund. By doing so, they have primed the gift to grow and gain momentum.

Alumni Karen Black ’10, Emily Sekula ’05 and Michael Passarello ’08 toured the geology department during Alumni Weekend in May. (Photos by Mike Ledford.)

After all, all three of them view their geology studies as the bedrock of the successful careers they have each established in the field. The Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences is one of the largest on the East Coast, graduating more majors each year than all of the other schools in South Carolina. Key to the program is an emphasis on field work and professional development in addition to the classroom experience.

Why the fund? These three benefactors know firsthand how field studies and travel deeply enhance the learning experience.

Sekula, one of the three founders of the fund, has leveraged that experience to now work as a geologist at ExxonMobil: “From pore water sampling at the College’s Dixie Plantation to monitoring greenhouse gas emissions in Francis Marion Forest, the geology department is where I received my first real taste of independent research.”

With that appreciation in mind, the fund will provide awards to students who conduct undergraduate research or field studies, or who travel to national or international conferences sanctioned by the department.

“Professional development is a term thrown about quite a bit. Students hear that term a lot, but may not know what it’s all about,” says Tim Callahan, chair of the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences. “Thanks to this support, we’re able to get students out in the field to see what it’s like being a geologist. We’re also able to fund travel to top conferences and workshops, which puts them so much further above the crowd when it comes to applying for jobs and graduate school.” 

Geology majors have been able to visit geologically significant places across the United States through the program, as well as go to places like South Africa and India. They have also had the opportunity to present their own work, an experience that bolsters their science literacy, which is essential to applying classroom knowledge to the professional world.

“The geology department is unique in its ability to foster a strong sense of community and encourage their students to fully pursue their academic interests,” says Passarello. “I give in order to honor their commitment to investing in each and every student as well as my hope that others will have similar opportunities which will ultimately lead them to their full potential.”

Such opportunities are game changers for students today and for years to come – and may even have a positive impact on the planet Earth. Geology major Jen Soto has been able to present her own research at conferences in the Southeast, and to travel to learn about emergent water systems through the support of philanthropic gifts like these.

“I have realized the only way we can keep surviving and thriving in this world is to create sustainable, resilient systems so that we can support our population,” says Soto. “I think geology can provide me with those answers to, well, help the world.”

Featured image from left: Emily Sekula ’05, Jim Weeg ’03 (M.S. ’05), Karen Black ’10, Tim Callahan (Geology and Environmental Geosciences) and Michael Passarello ’08.