When Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, received a $1.1-million dollar donation, it was notable for many reasons – not the least of which was because it didn’t go elsewhere.
Million dollar donations are more often than not destined for larger schools with larger geosciences programs – and there is no state larger in that respect than Texas.
Which just happens to be where you’ll find Midwestern State University.
MSU has about 6,200 students, which is about how many students may show up for a pre-season football scrimmage at some of the larger state schools.
AAPG member Rebecca Dodge, assistant professor of geosciences at MSU, says that smaller institutions, which are sometimes referred to as “feeder schools,” are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting such donations – especially those with undergraduate-only programs.
Schools like MSU are thought of as “teaching institutions” only, where there is little or no research being done.
Dodge, recipient of the AAPG Distinguished Service Award and a past president of the Energy Minerals Division, bristles at such a suggestion.
In fact, she says, not only is there undergraduate research being done, it is often leading the way, making “feeder” programs like MSU even more important to the overall health of the industry.
“Hundreds of students graduate every year from smaller state schools,” she says, “and if they don’t have a firm ground in basic geology, they certainly won’t enter the petroleum industry immediately – and may not even consider graduate program at all.”
An Encouraging Example?
Specifically, MSU has its own unique challenges in attracting donations.
“We are Texas’ only state-funded liberal arts institution, and scientific research isn’t the first thing that comes to peoples’ minds when they hear liberal arts,” she said. “However, our geoscience students have been going into the oil business for decades, and it’s donations like this one that recognize our place in feeding well-prepared students into graduate programs and even directly into industry.”
And it’s not like this latest gift, given by Beverly Bolin on behalf of her late husband, Robert, was the first of its kind to the program – either by the Bolin family or others.
Just recently the school received a significant donation from two MSU alumni involved in the local oil industry that will allow the department to outfit a state-of-the art computer laboratory.
To be clear: Dodge does not begrudge the bigger schools’ place in line.
“Often the donors … went to these schools for their graduate degrees and then into industry,” she said.
What Dodge wants to add, though, is that where these students end their collegiate careers is not where they started.
“In many cases the UT, LSU, OU graduate students got their start at a smaller state-funded school,” she said.
A school like Midwestern State.
It might be noteworthy to point out that the Bolin family’s involvement in MSU is set in stone – literally. The school’s science building is named Bolin Science Hall.
(Mrs. Bolin declined to comment on the donation.)
The latest gift will allow MSU to hire a full-time professor who will teach petroleum exploration and other petroleum-related topics, including the support of the Trans-Pecos Desert Research Station near Big Bend State Park in west Texas, and support of the Robert L. and Beverly Bolin Petroleum Geology Laboratory.
“The gift will benefit Midwestern State and generations of students and strengthen the geology program in a region with a rich tradition of oil and gas development,” said Jesse Rogers, MSU president.
Dodge hopes this is the start of a trend – call it money-attracting-money.
“I hope publicizing this generous donation from the Bolin family,” Dodge said, “will encourage others to consider a sizable donation to their undergraduate ‘home.’”