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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU alumnus helps College of Arts and Sciences establish its first endowed chair

A retired geologist who started his college career at New Mexico State University thanked the university July 27 when he presented a $1 million gift to his alma mater. The gift will help the College of Arts and Sciences establish its first endowed chair in the Department of Geological Sciences.

Dr. Timothy Lawton, head of the Department of Geological Sciences, signs paperwork for a $1 million gift given to New Mexico State University by Michael L. Johnson, who observes the signing. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Michael L. Johnson and his wife, Judy, presented the gift in a celebration attended by many top university officials, including College of Arts and Sciences department heads, clad in their colorful regalia.

Johnson praised two NMSU professors for having a profound influence on his life. Bill Seager, now a professor emeritus of geology, "could paint everything he needed to say with his words" without needing pictures or power point slides, Johnson said, noting that Seager "lectured in a way that brought the beauty and discipline of geology out."

The other professor singled out by Johnson was Marion Hardman, a professor of English.

"She would give lectures that would bring out the inner beauties of 'Homer' and the classics," Johnson said. "I had read them before, in high school, but they never were the same as what I had in college. That sort of deep knowledge experience is something that everyone in a university needs to give to a student and every student needs to understand it, because that's really what learning is all about."
Waded Cruzado-Salas, dean of the university's College of Arts and Sciences, said Johnson's generous gift "will allow us to reach out even more, to aim even higher and to transform lives forever."

Timothy Lawton, head of NMSU's Department of Geological Sciences, said Johnson's gift "changes the landscape by charting a new course for the department and the college and particularly, by showing us what is possible." Lawton would like to use the money to bring an isotope geochemist to the department.

William Flores, NMSU's executive vice president and provost, addressed Johnson when he said that great universities "have the strength and the foundation of the support of people like yourself that, by your gift back, help us to make this an even greater university."

Flores said Johnson's gift sets the stage for the university to acquire even more gifts.

Johnson chairs the college's science advisory council that actively advocates all sciences and that works on improving the sciences at NMSU. He graduated from NMSU in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in geology and then earned master's degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rice University. In 2002, after a career that took him to 57 countries, Johnson retired from ConocoPhillips Company.