Skip to Content

Department Head’s Letter–Fall, 1998

——— Isn’t it funny how Department Head’s Letters always seem to begin with “I can’t believe how long it has been since I last wrote” Regrettably though, this opening line is once again entirely appropriate as it has been two full years since I last wrote in my opening letter to “Dips and Strikes”, the department’s newsletter. At that time, I was already one year into my three year term as department head, having taken over from Mark Reed in 1995. This time around, I am pleased to report that I survived my first term and have agreed to stay on for at least this academic year and maybe 1999-2000 as well. But, I am due for a sabbatical during 2000-2001 and, as fun as this job is (!), I don’t anticipate missing my sabbatical opportunity to serve a sixth year. I intended last summer to prepare a new edition of Dips and Strikes, but we had so little alumni news on file to share with you that it seemed wise to wait. Please take this opportunity to share your news (email it to our new office manager Wanda Weber (more about her later!) at, or send it in by snail mail to Department of Geological Sciences, 1272 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403. Be sure to indicate the year you graduated and the degree you received.

——— As usual, things have been very busy and I will try to summarize the highlights in the narrative that follows. Much of our biggest news centers on personnel so let me begin there.


Faculty Activities

——— In the last Dips and Strikes, we featured Michael Manga, the geological fluid dynamicist we hired in 1995, and I indicated that I hoped to share with you in my next communication the news that we had done as well in hiring a replacement for our sedimentologist, Sam Boggs Jr. Well, I am pleased that I can indeed do so. Please join me in welcoming Becky Dorsey, who joined our faculty a little over one year ago. Becky received her B.S. from University of Vermont and went on to Princeton University where she received her Ph.D. From Princeton, Becky moved to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and was on their faculty for seven years. Becky relinquished tenure at Northern Arizona for the opportunity to join our faculty and move to a department that has a Ph.D. program and is more research-oriented than her previous home. Becky’s research focus within sedimentology is in the evolution of basins and the use of sedimentation patterns and stratigraphy in deciphering their tectonic and structural development. Becky brought with her two active research grants and she succeeded just last year in securing a new NSF grant. On the teaching front, Becky has contributed to the 100-level introductory sequence, taught a new class in Basin Analysis, and covered a portion of our Field Camp last summer. She will also take over the core Sedimentology & Stratigraphy course next year after Sam Boggs, Jr. moves on to full time retirement.

——— I am also very pleased to announce the arrival of Dr. Marli Miller, a structural geologist with a B.S. from Colorado College and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. Prior to joining us, Marli was on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire where she won their Best Teacher of the Year Award. Marli and her family decided that the midwest was just not their “cup of tea” so they relocated to Eugene so Marli could establish an affiliation with us. Marli has been granted Principal Investigator status as well as the right to serve on graduate thesis and dissertation committees and she has quickly established herself as one of our more active department members and one of our most highly rated teachers. We feel extremely fortunate to have attracted Marli and we hope that she is as pleased to be here as we are having her here. Marli has developed a popular course covering the geology of the national parks and she also taught Structural geology last Spring and we expect that she will become a regular contributor to Field Camp, like she was last summer.

——— Other faculty developments since I last wrote include the promotion to full professor of Kathy Cashman, Gene Humphreys, and Dana Johnston, and the promotion of Doug Toomey to associate professor with indefinite tenure. Ray Weldon is next in line for consideration for the full professor jump and Michael Manga and Becky Dorsey will soon be knocking on the “tenure door” as both were hired with credit for prior service elsewhere. At the other end of the career spectrum, Bill Orr began a one third time appointment last year in anticipation of fully retiring in 2000, and Allan Kays is scheduled to follow suit, beginning his one third time appointment this coming Spring, with an eye toward fully retiring in 2005. Bill continues to be very active with the Condon Fossil Museum and Allan looks forward to spending more time on his research once his teaching commitments lighten up a bit. Regrettably, budget cuts consumed the position Bill Orr occupied but we do expect to be authorized to search for a replacement for Allan during the 1999-2000, pending budgetary approval. And, as one final faculty career note, Jack Rice continues to serve as associate vice provost for academic affairs, a post that now occupies two-thirds of his time and will run at least through next academic year.

——— Faculty honors also continue to accumulate. Perhaps the most impressive since I last wrote was the election of Greg Retallack to fellowship in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the association that publishes the highly regarded journal Science. In addition, Michael Manga received a prestigious CAREER grant from the NSF and Dana Johnston was chosen as a College of Arts and Sciences Richard Bray Faculty Fellow for 1997-1998. Department faculty also continue to help shape the future of the field through service on influential committees and by convening topical conferences. Some recent examples include Becky Dorsey’s recent service as chair of GSA’s Sedimentary Geology Division and Gene Humphreys’ current service as chair of GSA’s Geophysics Division and as associate editor of the GSA Bulletin. In a similar vein, Doug Toomey continues his service on the NSF RIDGE steering committee and, closer to home, he has recently taken over as Head of the UO Computational Science Institute. In addition. Michael Manga is serving on AGU’s Excellence in Geophysics Education committee and Mark Reed recently convened a Gordon Research Conference on the topic of Metal Ore-Forming Systems.

Student Activities

——— Since I last wrote, our student numbers have remained quite constant with about 70 undergraduate majors and about 40 graduate students. Last year for the first time senior undergraduate students with exceptional records were invited to participate in our senior honor’s thesis program and several took advantage of this new program. Brian Olmstead worked with Kathy Cashman, Nick Bacher worked with Ray Weldon and Dayanthie Weeraratne worked with Michael Manga. Although all produced first class senior theses, Dayanthie’s deserves special recognition because it has already been published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. All three of these students went on to graduate school with Brian attending New Mexico Tech, Nick attending Duke University, and Dayanthie remaining at the UO where she is now enrolled in our M.S. program. The honors thesis program was a big success and students are participating again this year.

——— Our graduate students have also been doing well, so well in fact, that it has been a challenge to keep up with their accumulating awards and honors. To cite just a few examples: Recent Ph.D. recipient Liz Hearn was funded during her final year by a prestigious NASA Graduate Student Research Fellowship; Liz is about to relocate to Boston where she will soon begin a postdoctoral appointment at MIT. Julia Hammer, also a recent Ph.D. recipient, received numerous awards while a student with us including a UO Graduate Research Award, a University Club Foundation Fellowship, and most recently a two year NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship which she will use to fund her postdoctoral work at Brown University. Other recipients of UO Graduate Research Awards include Jon Castro, Anita Ho, Melissa Katz, and Rob Langridge. Our students have also been quite successful with GSA Research Grants over the years, with recipients since I last wrote including Rebecca Ambers, Jonathan Wynn, and Mark Hemphill-Haley. Rebecca Ambers also received of a multi-year Graduate Fellowship from the Environmental Protection Agency. And last, but certainly not least, Jennifer Pickering received an Outstanding Student Paper Award from the Volcanology-Geochemistry-Petrology section of the American Geophysical Union last year.

——— Due to some strange alignment of the planets it turns out that more than half of our entire graduate student population is expected to graduate during the present academic year. This will keep our faculty members busy reading theses and dissertations, it will keep us all busy attending defenses but, most importantly, it will present an enormous challenge to our admissions committee whose charge it will be to recruit highly qualified and talented new students to replace those that will be leaving.

Staff Activities

——— Since I last wrote we have also seen considerable movement, both in and out of the department, on the part of several of our staff members. Most alumni will remember Carol Cox, our office manager of twenty five years. Well, Carol retired during summer, 1997 and is now enjoying the beginning of her second year of retirement. She was a valued employee and a good friend and the department has not seemed quite the same since she left. However, life must go on and indeed it has! We were extremely fortunate that Carol’s retirement coincided with Wanda Weber’s decision to seek a new work environment on campus and Wanda joined us as our new office manager in August, 1997. It’s hard to imagine how someone can step into an office, not to mention a filing system, that someone else set up and used for twenty five years, and function. But, in very short order Wanda was doing exactly that. It’s difficult to imagine how got so lucky, but just as we were when Sam Boggs hired Carol twenty seven years ago, it happened again when I had the chance to hire Wanda. We couldn’t be more delighted to have her as our new office manager. And, she assures me, she finds us to be quite acceptable too!

——— We also had turnover in our accountant’s position brought on by Georgia Scott’s departure not quite a year ago to return to the Physics Department to serve as their chief accountant, a job that represents a step up the classification ladder for her. Like with Carol, we had all grown to think of Georgia as indispensable but providence smiled on us once again, this time in the form of Patty Valenzuela who relocated from International Education to our department to take over from Georgia. Patty has done a great job converting our accounting from a variety of home-made spreadsheet type programs to Excel spreadsheets and the new reports she produces are marvels of clarity and accuracy. I think I can safely comment that Patty is finding us to be an amusing bunch with some very odd practices that are not likely followed anywhere else but in geology departments!

——— Our other staff members are Pat Kallunki, receptionist/graduate secretary/local area network operator, Michael Shaffer, research assistant in the electron microbeam laboratory, Pat Ryan, senior research assistant working primarily with our geophysicists’ computer systems, and Lori Suskin, our thin section technician. All of these people seem happy in their positions but I wanted to be sure to mention them all, even if they aren’t coming or going!


Now, Thaaat’s a Field Trip!!

——— As all of our alumni will recall, field trips form an important part of our instructional program. When you think about it, it’s hard to imagine them not doing so given the geological wonderland we live in. But, there is plenty of good geology outside of Oregon and last winter associate professor of geophysics Doug Toomey led eighteen of us on a once-in-a-lifetime field trip to Oman to observe that country’s spectacular ophiolite, arguably the most complete and undeformed cross section through a fossil mid-ocean ridge anywhere in the world–it is certainly the best exposed example given that virtually nothing grows in Oman!

——— Together with his colleague Will Wilcox from University of Washington, Doug organized a trip involving 40 people total from the two institutions. The UO group consisted of 18 faculty, post-docs and graduate students whereas the UW group of 22 was consisted of undergraduate students and the faculty trip leaders. In both cases, the trip represented the culmination of a seminar-format class on mid-ocean ridges, designed to acquaint participants with the basics of mid-ocean ridges, and the specifics of the occurrence in Oman in particular.

——— The trip itself began with visits to the UO Health Service for TB tests, typhoid pills, tetanus and hepatitis A shots, and for most of us, prescriptions for Mefloquin, an anti-malarial concoction. And then, on February 23 we drove to Portland where we caught a Northwest flight to Minneapolis, followed by a KLM flight to Amsterdam and then a final KLM flight to Muscat, Oman, via Abu Dahbi. Our connections were short and the trip to Oman went flawlessly but most of us were nevertheless worn out upon arrival–twelve time zones will do that! Doug and Will, together will graduate student Bill Hammond and postdoc David Jousselin were already “in-country” and were there to meet us when we arrived at the airport in the wee hours of the morning, Oman time. After a day’s recovery period, we set off on the field trip proper, occupying twelve identical white Toyota four wheel drive vehicles that must have made quite a sight as we drove through the many small villages we encountered.

——— The geology we had a chance to see was unparalleled (in my experience at least) and included classic sections of mantle peridotite with discordant dunites, the MOHO itself exposed so sharply that one could put one’s finger right on it, overlying massive and layered gabbros, the occasional trondhjemite, sheeted dikes, and finally sulfide mounds, pillow basalts and seafloor sediments. Access to all of this was via Omani super-highways, otherwise known as dry river and stream beds, down which we flew in our four wheel drive vehicles. Those of us who had never done such driving before quickly became accustomed to it and had a lot of fun driving through the shallow water leaving rooster tails of spray behind us! Doug and Will organized a fantastic series of daily excursions, each designed to observe a different portion of the ophiolite stratigraphy. Each evening we returned to the camp for that night to find our cooks Hakim (from Pakistan) and Mohammed (from Kenya) awaiting our return with a fresh hot batch of what graduate student Anita Ho described as “rice and stuff”. Although we couldn’t always tell what the “stuff” was, all agreed that the food was delicious and nobody went hungry.

——— We were actually on the ground in Oman for only nine days and the days were so full that the time passed very quickly. As already noted, the geology was superb and we all also agreed that the country of Oman is a very clean and beautiful place in its own unusual way and the people we encountered were exceptionally friendly and helpful. Most of us would return in a flash if we had the opportunity!

Our Decennial Review

——— Although nowhere near as exciting or fun as the trip to Oman, the ten year review process we underwent last year nonetheless marked an important event in our recent history and one we learned a great deal from. When former Dean of the Graduate School Stead Upham arrived six or so years ago, he instituted a ten year review process for all departments and last year it was our turn, together with several other departments. The process itself consisted of gathering statistical data and then producing a written self study report, focusing on virtually all of our activities from teaching and enrollment history, to trends in grant income and research productivity, to (downward) trends in college-, university- and state-derived support, to analysis of our attractiveness to women and minorities. As the principal author of the report I can say that I found the exercise of preparing it to be onerous at times, but at the same time I know that I, and I suspect other faulty also, learned a great deal from it. The report was not only for internal consumption but was also read and analyzed by an on-campus committee consisting of faculty members from Computer Science, Geography, and Education, as well as a blue ribbon outside visiting committee consisting of Professors John Ferry (Johns Hopkins), Don Forsyth (Brown University) and Ray Ingersoll (UCLA). These committee members also interviewed each and every one of our faculty members as well as groups of both undergraduate and graduate students. In short–we were scrutinized VERY carefully!

——— Overall, it was concluded that we have been doing a remarkably good job considering the perilously low level of support we receive from the state. Our accomplishments in research and grant funding generated particular praise as did the impression gained by the visiting committees from their meetings with student groups, that our undergraduate and graduate students are very satisfied with their experiences in the department and find us to be a welcoming and nurturing department. We were also praised for our generally high level of collegiality among ourselves, although it was recommended that we meet as a whole faculty more frequently that had been the norm, just to be sure that we all understand what each other is up to. The areas of greatest concern were our declining enrollments, particularly in introductory classes for non-majors, and our lack of a long-term hiring plan. We have taken the committees’ recommendations very much to heart and have set as goals for the present year a complete reconsideration and revision of our curriculum and the development of a three person hiring plan. The goal of the former exercise is to restore some of our lost non-major enrollment, and to refresh and modernize our requirements for majors and graduate students. Development of a hiring plan will require us to confront the current state of the field and predict future new directions so we can position ourselves to make the most of each and every hiring opportunity that presents itself in the future.

——— Another important outcome of the review process was recognition that the future of our summer field camp program hangs in the balance. As noted earlier, Allan Kays, who has long directed the camp and, until recently, taught it in its entirety, will move onto a one-third time position beginning this Spring and he has opted to fulfill the duties of this part-time position with teaching during the regular academic year. Thus, the organization and teaching of field camp will now transfer to some of the newer arrivals in the department, and it is starting to look like Ray Weldon, Becky Dorsey, and Marli Miller will be the principal players with less frequent contributions from Kathy Cashman, Michael Manga, Harve Waff, and Greg Retallack. CLOSING STATEMENTS

——— Although I regret that this “newsletter” does not contain news of your classmates, let me remind you that simply reflects that we had very little such news on file. Please be sure to drop us a line and let us know what you’ve been up to recently and we will be sure to include your news in the next issue of “Dips and Strikes”.

——— And finally, let me also remind you that we at the University of Oregon have been weathering some pretty hard financial times since the passage of Measure Five eight years or so ago and that we always welcome your charitable contributions to either our general fund of any specific fund you may choose to specify. As many of you are aware, we have funds set up with the UO Foundation that enable contributors to honor past faculty members Lloyd Staples, Ewart Baldwin, or James Stovall. We also have our “Speakers Fund” which is designed to enable us to bring in speakers from outside to present their research in our weekly seminar series. And, perhaps the fund in greatest need is our “Student Research Fund” which currently has only a paltry $1,000 in principal which generates barely enough income to make a few thin sections. We will most gratefully welcome any contribution you can make. Please sent your news and any contribution you would like to make to: Department of Geological Sciences 1272 University of Oregon Eugene, OR 97403.

Skip to toolbar