Research News

$1M gift to support research and immersion experiences for Vanderbilt’s Earth and Environmental Sciences

Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science has received a $1 million gift from anonymous donors to bolster faculty research and student immersion experiences in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Half of this gift will endow the Alberstadt-Reesman-Stearns Faculty Research Fund for developing new research efforts and collaborations and providing bridge funding for sustained data collection or research. The remainder of the gift will establish the Alberstadt-Reesman-Stearns Field Studies Fund for course-related field trips and other student immersion experiences at research field sites.

These two funds honor three professors emeriti in the department: Leonard P. Alberstadt, an expert in paleontology and carbonate petrology who served at Vanderbilt from 1967 to 2003, including nearly 15 years as department chair; Arthur L. Reesman, who served as professor of geology from 1968 to 1985 and specialized in low-temperature geochemistry; and Richard G. Stearns, BA’48, MS’49, who was a member of the Vanderbilt faculty from 1961 to 1985, with expertise in the areas of structural geology, geophysics and geohistory.

“The donors have demonstrated their deep understanding of the twin enterprises standing at the center of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences’ mission: cutting-edge faculty research in emerging disciplines and field studies that introduce students to complex topics through observation and hands-on learning,” said Lauren Benton, dean of the College of Arts and Science and Nelson O. Tyrone Jr. Professor of History.

“It is especially fitting that the endowed funds recognize three distinguished emeriti professors who shaped the department and contributed so much, both through their own research and by designing and leading immersive field experiences,” Benton added.

Alberstadt and Reesman were among the first professors to teach Maymester courses, traveling to Florida to teach about coastal processes in Apalachicola Bay. The field studies fund will build upon their legacy by helping students pursue field-based study abroad experiences and by funding new immersion and field studies course opportunities, such as class visits to study Tennessee’s limestone formations.

“For the earth and environmental sciences, the world is our laboratory—the intellectual garden of rivers, volcanoes, glaciers, fossil beds and ecosystems in which we work and learn,” explained Steven Goodbred Jr., chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “As our research and education activities take place on all seven continents, this generous gift further enables our faculty and students to pursue their interests in understanding the planet that both sustains and threatens life. This gift is an enduring—and quite fantastic—contribution, for which we are immensely grateful.”

In 2017, earth and environmental sciences faculty and students will be engaging in research in Nashville and around the globe, pursuing topics that range from atmospheric science to geochemistry, and from Antarctic geomorphology to hydrology in Bangladesh.

by Alex Valnoski