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Endowed chair will open new doors for NMSU's Geological Sciences

LAS CRUCES - A gift from New Mexico State University alumnus Michael L. Johnson will enable the geological sciences department to recruit a key faculty member and strengthen its master's program.

ill be something transformational for the department," said Timothy F. Lawton, professor and department head. "Having a top-notch person in a top-notch field is going to do that."

A $1 million gift from Johnson will help the College of Arts and Sciences establish its first endowed chair. Johnson and his wife, Judy, will present the gift to the department Thursday, July 27, at the Stan Fulton Center on the NMSU campus.

Lawton would like to bring an isotope geochemist to the department.

"A lot of people who work on global change commonly are geochemists," Lawton said. Their areas of focus can range from ore deposits to climate change, he said. Bringing in a geo-chemist also would be important to the small, six-person department because a recent retiree, Professor Thomas Giordano, is a geochemist.

The discipline also offers an opportunity to strengthen ties across campus, especially in the chemistry department and with soil scientists in the College of Agriculture and Home Economics.

"It does enhance our collaboration with other units in the university," Lawton said.

Lawton said while students have been receiving support from alumni, "this is the first large gift that targets the faculty."

Johnson graduated from NMSU in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in geology. He earned master's degrees from Rice University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Johnson retired from ConocoPhillips Company in 2002 after a long career that took him to 57 countries. He said his undergraduate education at NMSU was instrumental in his success.

Johnson has a decade-long history of supporting the department. He gave the department a plotter than has been used to generate numerous large-format posters for presentations. He also supports the department's colloquium series that brings in expert speakers each week.

"He's always been so generous," Lawton said. "Almost single-handedly, he's helped raise the level of professionalism for our program."

Darrell J. Pehr
July 20, 2006