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 other donors.

The Jackson School of Geosciences is committed to giving students opportunities to apply classroom and laboratory training in the field is a major strength of its undergraduate and graduate programs. Skills developed by fieldwork typically include collection of geologic data, constructing  measured sections, interpreting geologic structures, and geologic mapping. The school views this training as critical, and offers four major field courses. These are expensive endeavors, involving road trips throughout Texas and the southwest, with prices for equipment, transportation, lodging, and food generally increasing every year.

Other geology programs across the country have reduced their field courses and outside experiences as a result of budgetary constraints. Pressure on the Jackson School to similarly rein in costs inevitably will grow. To avoid the fate of these other programs and address escalating costs, in December 2006 an appeal was made for 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, of equal importance, that none turn to other areas of study as a result of financial limitations. Bob Zinn is among the earliest and the most generous of supporters in this effort.

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. (’52) and an M.A. (’53) in geology. 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 training 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 reflects his belief in education 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, are longtime scholarship donors to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. 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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