For 28 years AAPG’s Visiting
Geologist Program has sent members to colleges and universities
around the world to tell, in their own words, what it means to be
Never has that mission been more important than now.
"Geology is almost an orphaned science today," said
Pat Gratton, AAPG president-elect and immediate past VGP chairman.
"In high school, chemistry, physics and biology are generally the
only science courses offered. Earth sciences might be offered at
some high schools as a survey course, but most students’ only contact
with the science is in the eighth grade, where it is taught as a
unit of general science."
Many geology majors today were exposed to the science
only through a family member or a friend’s parents who are involved
in the profession, he said.
"This field has not had a proper parentage, and that
provides us with both opportunities and handicaps," Gratton said.
"The Visiting Geologist Program, in my book, is one of the biggest
positives that tend to address the handicap by having practicing
geologists visit with students about what it means to work in this
"Over the years there have been a number of instances
where young people were motivated to change their majors to geology
as a result of a VGP visitor," he continued, "because a practicing
geologist was able to impart the fascinating aspects of the profession."
Robert D. Cowdery plans to continue the program’s
impressive tradition this year as chairman of the VGP Committee
-- and he hopes to breathe a little more wind into its sails with
a personal touch. He already has assembled the names and numbers
of 180 colleges and universities, and he intends to personally call
the department head of each school and then follow up with a copy
of the VGP brochure.
"I think it is important that we be proactive in
our efforts," Cowdery said. "We can no longer simply sit back and
wait for people to call us. There is no doubt that the negative
elements impacting our profession over the last few years are going
to contribute to a future shortage of geoscientists, and we have
to start proactively working to bring new blood into geology."
Reaching the Teachers
Cowdery, 1996-97 AAPG president, identified another
serious issue that the VGP program can potentially address -- the
lack of AAPG members within the faculty ranks.
"I did a quick look at the five degree granting institutions
in my home state of Kansas and found that of the top 40 professors
at those schools only 12 were AAPG members," he said.
Two schools had no members at all.
"The VGP is an opportunity for us to meet with the
faculty and encourage their membership," he continued. "For years
a good number of geology faculty around the country had been involved
in the petroleum industry at one time, but that is no longer the
case. We don’t have that 'friend at court’ anymore, and we need
to consciously make more contact with faculty and show them the
benefits of becoming members."
In addition to increasing faculty involvement, Cowdery
hopes to expand the scope of the VGP to a growing segment of higher
"Community colleges are increasingly where students
begin their college careers. What better time to tweak students’
interests in a variety of career choices?" he said, adding that
smaller colleges often are the most interested in visits from practicing
"You may only speak to a few students, but if those
students who are truly interested in hearing our stories, go into
the field and further our profession, then we have done some good,"
Last year AAPG members made 58 visits to colleges
and universities worldwide, down 30 percent from the average of
the previous three years. The program was impacted by the travel
restrictions associated with the Iraq war, global terrorism, economic
recession, reduced governmental budgets and health threats such
Visits within the United States were down 40 percent
compared with the previous year and international visits were down
60 percent from the year before.
The biggest crowd for a visiting geologist was at
the University of Oklahoma, where 140 students came out to hear
then-AAPG president Dan Smith. Interest was high at various universities
around the country, including Columbia University, Kent State University,
the University of Idaho and the University of Tennessee.
Cowdery also wants to continue the effort to expand
the VGP internationally. Currently 14 geologists are involved in
the program on the international level, including professionals
in Indonesia, Brunei, Pakistan, Australia, Abu Dhabi, Scotland,
the United Kingdom, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago. These geologists
made 21 visits last year in both the countries where they work and
While every request for a VGP speaker has been successfully
filled in recent years, both Gratton and Cowdery said additional
members are needed to swell the ranks of the VGP both abroad and
at home -- and it doesn’t have to be a tremendous commitment for
any one person.
"Even if people would just commit to visiting the
schools within their area it would be beneficial," Gratton said.
list of 88 VGP speakers include environmental geologists, researchers,
oceanographers, U.S. Geological Survey and state survey geologists
as well as petroleum industry professionals.
Geologists themselves get a great deal of satisfaction
from their involvement in the VGP.
"I have a strong commitment to continuing education,
and I get a terrific feeling by going to these colleges and universities
and laying out what a career in geosciences can be," Cowdery said.
"There’s nothing like helping the educational process."
"The satisfaction that comes from visiting these
schools and talking with young people about your career and seeing
the motivation you can stir in them is very uplifting and a rewarding
experience for geologists," he said. "The men and women active in
the VGP are involved because they want to help the profession and
they want to help the students. What they accidentally discover
is that they are helping themselves."