DALLAS (SMU) — One of SMU’s oldest and most distinguished academic departments has new resources to support the growing impact of its research and teaching, thanks to a gift of more than $10 million from the Honorable Roy M. Huffington of Houston. The gift endows the Department of Earth Sciences in SMU’s Dedman College, now renamed the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences.

With this new gift, announced today (see a video), Huffington has given SMU over $20 million in the last two years and a total of more than $31 million over many years of support for the University. In fall 2006, he provided just over $10 million in endowments for faculty support and student scholarships at SMU. Huffington received his bachelor’s degree in geology from SMU.

“SMU’s research and teaching in the earth sciences is already internationally recognized, producing successful scientists who help us understand the history of our planet as well as the prospects for developing future energy resources,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Roy Huffington’s generosity will enable the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences to make an even greater impact on the challenges faced on a global level.”

“An expanding need for earth science professionals has resulted from increased environmental concerns and other growing demands,” said Paul W. Ludden, SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs. “As SMU has responded to previous national needs, we are poised to prepare the next generation of earth scientists to address new national problems.”

The study of geology has been part of SMU’s curriculum from its opening in 1915. Through the years, the Geology Department evolved into the Department of Geological Sciences, a core discipline in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and one of the University’s major research departments. Changing the name now from geological sciences to earth sciences reflects the broadened scope of this discipline.

“The term earth sciences more closely captures the essence of programs that are no longer solely confined to problems of subsurface geology,” said Caroline Brettell, interim dean of Dedman College. “Earth sciences address some of the environmental and natural resource issues that are playing an increasing role in the political life of our nation.”

The new Huffington gift will create the Huffington Bicentennial Endowment Fund for the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences. Along with Huffington’s gift in 2006 for faculty support and scholarships, it is patterned after the Benjamin Franklin Trust, a unique fund established more than 200 years ago through the estate of the American statesman to benefit the cities of Boston and Philadelphia. As with the Franklin Trust, terms are set forth for use of the Huffington Funds while they continue to grow over the next two centuries.

The Huffington Department of Earth Sciences offers bachelor’s degrees in geology, geophysics, environmental geology, environmental science and a new interdisciplinary degree program in environmental studies. The department’s graduate programs include Master of Science degrees in geology, geophysics and applied geophysics; and Ph.D. degrees in geology and geophysics, which were among SMU’s first doctoral programs in the mid-1960s. The department includes 11 full-time faculty members and several adjunct faculty and research associates.

“When astronauts went to the Moon the first time and sent back pictures of our planet, our concept of the Earth changed,” said Robert Gregory, chair of the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences. “Modern geology is more properly called ‘earth science’ as it addresses not only the study of rocks and minerals, oil and gas or fossils, but the Earth as an interacting whole from the core to the atmosphere. Comparative planetology clearly shows how special we are: The Earth is the only place in the Solar System with the inherent stability of environment to allow us to flourish.”

Earth sciences research at SMU has achieved international recognition in the areas of seismology, experimental petrology, geothermal studies and paleoclimatology, which integrates stable isotope geology, sedimentology and paleontology. Currently, research projects of the earth sciences faculty have external funding totaling more than $4 million from agencies including the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, Petroleum Research Fund of the American Chemical Society, U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Energy. Research sites include Asia, Arabia, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, Pacific Islands, the Americas and Europe.

Major earth sciences research facilities at SMU include:

  • Geothermal Laboratory — the major repository for geothermal resource data in the U.S.
  • Hydrothermal Laboratory — can simulate subsurface conditions and fluid-rock interactions to a depth of eight miles.
  • Seismology and Infrasound Program — specializing in seismo-acoustic arrays and the sources of earthquakes, an integral part of the U.S. nuclear test detection efforts.
  • Shuler Museum of Paleontology — major repository of vertebrate and plant fossils from North America and significant holdings from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
  • Stable Isotope Laboratory — center for studies of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen isotopes of fluids and rocks with applications to Earth’s major cycles, including ancient and modern climate.

Graduates of SMU’s earth sciences programs have gone on to distinguished careers in academia, energy and mineral exploration, engineering, government research, law, medicine and politics.

Huffington is chair and CEO of Roy M. Huffington Inc., an independent, international petroleum operations firm based in Houston. His distinguished career has included global oil and gas exploration, international business, and military and diplomatic service. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he spent 10 years with Humble Oil and Refining Company, now ExxonMobil. In 1956 he founded Huffco, an oil and gas firm that began exploration in Indonesia in the late 1960s. A major gas strike there in 1972 led to a 25-year joint venture between Huffco and the Indonesian government. In 1988 Newsweek magazine listed Huffington as one of 25 Americans “in the forefront of building bridges to the East.”

Huffington sold Huffco to the Chinese Petroleum Corporation in 1990, when he added another dimension to his international activities as U.S. ambassador to Austria from 1990 to 1993. As ambassador, he worked to open business opportunities between the newly accessible Eastern bloc countries and the West. Upon returning to the United States following his term as ambassador, he renewed his involvement in oil and gas investment.

After earning his B.S. degree in geology from SMU in 1938, Huffington earned both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in geology from Harvard University. His late wife, Phyllis Gough Huffington, earned her B.B.A. degree from SMU in 1943. Huffington has received distinguished alumni awards from SMU and the Harvard Business School. In 1990 he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from SMU and delivered the Commencement address.

As SMU approaches the centennial of its founding, in 2011, and its opening, in 2015, the University is seeking additional resources to support outstanding students, faculty, academic programs and the campus experience. The new Huffington gift will support one of SMU’s highest priorities — the sciences — and will continue to provide resources over the next two centuries.

Huffington’s first gift to SMU patterned after the Franklin Trust was $5 million in 1990 to establish an unrestricted Huffington Bicentennial Endowment Fund. A portion of that fund is paid annually to SMU for current unrestricted use, while the fund continues to grow. The fund, which is administered as part of SMU’s endowment, now has a market value of more than triple its original value.

In addition to the Huffingtons’ bicentennial funds, their gifts to SMU include endowed faculty chairs in Finance and Geological Sciences, and several endowed scholarship funds. A member of the SMU Board of Trustees from 1980-87, Huffington was named a trustee emeritus in 1991. In 1996 he and his wife received the Mustang Award for longtime service and philanthropy to the University.

Among the many other honors Huffington has received are the Gold Medallion Oil Pioneer Award from the Indonesian government, the Grosse Goldene Ehrenzeichen Award (Grand Decoration of Honor in Gold) for services to the Republic of Austria, the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Henry Laurence Gantt Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement from the American Petroleum Institute. He is also chairman emeritus of both the international Asia Society in New York City and the Salzburg Global Seminar in Salzburg, Austria.

The Huffington Department of Earth Sciences is only the second endowed academic department at SMU. The first is the William P. Clements Department of History. Its endowment has provided resources for significant development of the department, including a new Ph.D. program and the Clements Center for Southwest Studies.