Friends of Student Field Experiences Endowment

Mar 21, 2007 | Excellence Funds & Program Support

The Friends of Student Field Experiences Endowment was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on March 21, 2007, to benefit of The University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences. Gift funds were provided by Mr. Robert L. Zinn of Houston, Texas, and various donors.

The Jackson School of Geosciences’ commitment to having its students apply classroom and laboratory training to solving geological problems in the field is a major component in the strength of its undergraduate and graduate programs. Skills developed typically include: collection of geologic data, constructing a measured section, interpreting geologic structures, and geologic mapping. The Jackson School, which views this training as critical to obtaining as complete an education in the geosciences as possible, currently offers four major field courses. These are expensive endeavors, however, involving road trips throughout Texas and the southwest with prices for equipment, transportation, lodging, and food ever increasing.

Budgetary constraints have indeed resulted in other geology programs across the country reducing their commitments to field courses and outside experiences. Pressure on the Jackson School itself to rein in costs and limit field expenses inevitably will grow. To avoid the fate of these other programs as well as address the matter of escalating costs, an appeal for help was made in December 2006 to Jackson School alumni and friends to support student field experiences. The Friends of the Student Field Experiences Endowment was created to ensure that every student has multiple opportunities to gain field training and, equally important, that none turn to other areas of study due to the inability to afford the expense associated with these practical experiences. Among the earliest and the most generous of our supporters in this effort has been Bob Zinn.

The son of a self-made businessman who became an attorney after working his way through UT Law, Bob graduated from the University with a B.S. and an M.A. in geology in 1952 and 1953, respectively. He joined the Pan American Production Company in Lafayette, Louisiana as a geologist upon graduation. In 1956, Bob left to work as an independent geologist and then as an operator-producer beginning in 1959. With a career in the oil and gas exploration industry spanning 59 years, he remains active as the owner of Zinn Petroleum Company, an independent exploration firm based in Houston. Bob’s decision to support the creation of this endowment stems from his strong belief that working in the field is essential to the training of a geologist. “Geology,” he says, “is something of an abstraction if you are not in the field to see the reality. It is about the intellectual concept versus the physical reality.” For students, Bob feels that “field work is so important to really understanding what they are reading about.”

Bob’s commitment to the Jackson School also reflects his belief in education in general and continues a pattern of giving to further the cause of learning. His record of generosity to our Geology Foundation is three and a half decades long. He and his wife, Edith, have provided scholarships to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston for years. Moreover, others in need, some 165 charities annually, are beneficiaries of their largess. “The opportunity and good fortune to be able to help other people in many different philanthropies,” says Bob, “gives meaning to my life.”

As to the impact of this endowment will have on the University and Jackson School communities, Bob’s expectations are modest but clear. “I hope,” he says, “that it will enable students to go into the field. I personally always felt I didn’t get enough of it. I needed more.”

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