Supporting the Future
Nearly 10 years ago, shortly after earning degrees in geology and securing their first career jobs in the field, Shane Matson (B.S. ‘01, M.S. ‘07), Eddie Valek (M.S. ‘99) and Clayton Yarri Davis (B.S. ‘04, M.S. ‘07) joined together with a group of alumni and friends and became philanthropists – making their first annual gift to their alma mater to benefit the Department of Geosciences.
In 2007, Maston, Valek and Davis helped lead the effort to establish the Doy L. Zachry Endowed Scholarship and the Walter L. Manger Endowed Scholarship, which are each awarded annually. As with so many ambitious ideas, this endeavor began with a simple conversation among friends.
“We were just talking one day – Shane, Eddie and me,” said Davis, who is a geoscience manager with Vitruvian Exploration II, LLC. “We wanted to do something to honor these professors who have made such a huge difference to us.”
They kept the group of donors small so the scholarships would be a surprise. They went to 40 fellow alumni and created a gift to honor two of the department’s long-standing professors and mentors who were committed to the department’s number one need at the time – increasing undergraduate student support. Manger and Zachry also taught young alumni the power of supporting the department and creating a tradition of giving back to the next group of students.
“Geological alumni provide a lot of financial support,” said Matson, who is a manager at Spyglass Energy Group, LLC. “As a student, I received the benefit of that support. When you receive something like that, a responsibility comes with it. The people who invested in me made me feel that it’s my responsibility to do the same. My wife and I both give back. We are investing in students of today.”
“Dr. Manger, the primary adviser to my graduate work, he always reminded us that we were standing on the backs of giants,” said Valek, a division exploration manager at EOG Resources. “Somebody has tread ground prior to your arrival and paved the way for you to research and study the things you’re interested in. The opportunities we have are because of the work done by people before us. Our successes don’t come by ourselves.”
Since making their first gifts to the department, these three alumni have continued to champion causes for the department, promote its financial and curriculum needs and support many funds that benefit undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and programs within the department. They established an annual fundraising float trip, and all serve on the Department of Geosciences External Advisory Board, which helps advocate for the department’s needs and provides recommendations to the faculty regarding industry trends, employer needs and recruiting opportunities. Davis is currently the board’s chair.
“Eddie and Shane are the ones who got me interested in the advisory board – truly an amazing group of people,” Davis said. “It’s incredible to get to come back to the university. I get to meet the students and to be a part of all the great things that are happening. Helping the university improve also improves my degree – in both a professional sense and in a personal sense.”
Over the last two years, Valek, Matson and Davis have taken on the department’s top priority by becoming key supporters of the newly created doctoral program. Until the program’s establishment in 2012, Arkansas was the only state without a geosciences doctorate. With this addition, rather than sending top students out of state, the University of Arkansas can provide doctoral-level training to address the need for highly specialized geoscience research teams to work on issues in natural resources and energy.
“Industry requires a Ph.D. program to fund significant research,” Valek said in 2012 when the program was launched. “Doctoral-level research can be conducted on a broader scale, and address more complex trends and issues. Having this program will help all students, even those not pursuing a Ph.D. Industry will hire more of our geoscience master’s-level graduates and at better terms because of their exposure to this level of research.”
“The float trip has raised money for the Manger and Zachry scholarships since 2008, but this year we decided to shift focus,” Davis said. “To help meet the generous Walton Challenge Gift made to the Geoscience Ph.D. Fellowship Fund that expires in July of this year we donated funds raised from the 2014 float to student support for the doctoral program.”
As they reflect, these committed alumni know that creating a tradition of giving – no matter how much – is important to them and the department. They believe that with their own success comes the need to ensure the success of those who follow in their footsteps. For them, giving is both a benefit and a responsibility that comes with being a successful geologist. And, funding future geologists is also a channel through which they can watch the next generation’s education and careers blossom.
“I didn’t know where my decision to come to the University of Arkansas would lead me,” Valek said. “I chose to go here after walking around campus. Everything that was happening turned out to be positive for me as a student. I just can’t help but think what a chance I was taking coming here for graduate school. Everything boiled down to that one decision. I was always going to give back to that in some way, because I appreciated what the program did for me.”
“Because you receive thank you cards and watch students in their careers, you get a lot of unexpected benefits,” Matson said. “You get to watch these students grow.”
“The departmental scholarships help I received as a student made a big difference to me and to the kind of experience I had while in school,“ Davis said. “Even before I graduated, I decided I was going to give back if I was ever in a situation that allowed me to.”
“The amount is much less important than the action itself,” Matson said. “Few have the ability to give hundreds of thousands, but all have the ability to give fifty. Those small amounts are meaningful to the students of today.”
To learn more about the Geosciences Ph.D. and supporting the Department of Geosciences, please visit: http://fulbright.uark.edu/deans-office/offices-and-services/development/matching-opportunities.php.