As women continue to make inroads and contributions to the once male-dominated oil industry, the West Texas Geology Foundation has taken a new step to encourage more women to enter the field.
The foundation established and awarded its first Women in Geoscience Studies scholarship to Alondra Soltero, a graduate student at the University of Texas at El Paso.
The Women in Geoscience Studies, or “WinGS” scholarship, established in 2018, is a minimum of $5,000 given to a female candidate studying in a geoscience field from a school in or around the Permian Basin.
“This year’s recipient was also our strongest scholarship candidate overall … She’s very focused and interested in expanding her knowledge. I expect she will go far in life,” said Holly Jean Warmke, WTGS president, senior geologist for Midland Basin Non-Operated Joint Ventures and Midland Horizons Earth science adviser for Chevron USA Inc. Mid-Continent Business unit.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the earth and often found myself collecting rocks from a young age,” said Soltero. “However, my interest grew more when I began attending school at Mission Early College High School and we were asked to choose a career path to focus on. It was then that I took my first official introductory class in geology. I was hooked immediately and have stuck with it over the years.”
Soltero is currently planning to graduate with a master’s degree in geology from UTEP in December, then moving to Houston or Dallas in search of employment in the oil and gas industry, she said.
She heard about the scholarship from a friend and classmate, as well as from her adviser, Richard Langford.
She said scholarships targeted at specific areas are valuable to students, and help them focus and complete their degrees, “especially for those that are less fortunate than others,” said Soltero. “Overall, it relieves students of the stress of funding their research, while also proving that their work is important. This award will allow me to complete my work efficiently and to my best capability so that I may graduate later this year.”
Honoring Pioneering Women
Warmke said WTGS wanted to honor the women who help pave the way for others to follow into the industry.
“Some of these early female pioneers are getting more senior in age, and one well known lady has recently passed on. Nowadays, thanks to those first dedicated souls, more women are studying, applying, being hired and successfully working in the oil field. WTGF wanted to honor those initial adventurers and support continued increase in female geologists bringing their new ideas to oil and gas discovery,” Warmke said.
“Math and science have historically been difficult subjects to engage most women into majoring in at school. STEM projects and more recent initiatives are closing this gap, but there is always room for more improvement. The Foundation hopes the WinGS Scholarship will further encourage women to pursue their scientific dreams and thereby help us all be stronger Earth scientists in the future,” she said.
WTGS has a long history of supporting geoscience education and donated $75,000 in scholarships and support to the geological community last year, according to AAPG President Mike Party, president and CEO of Beryl Oil.
“The WTGF has supported luncheons, student volunteers to symposiums and conventions, ‘Rocks in Your Head’ science teacher training support, the (University of Texas Permian Basin) Imperial Barrel Award team, UTPB Science Fair, UTPB Career Fair, students on WTGS fields trips, San Angelo geology field camp, maps for elementary schools, mineral sets for classrooms and more,” said past WTGS Chairman Dexter Harmon, exploration manager for Fasken Oil and Ranch.
Genesis of WinGS
Harmon discussed how the idea for the new WinGS scholarship came to fruition.
“For me it started when the WTGF helped fund Robbie Gries’ book, ‘Anomalies: Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology 1917-2017’ that came out in 2017. This book really highlighted the efforts and contributions of earlier women in the search for petroleum. AAPG promoted women as one of its themes at the 100-year (anniversary) Convention and a lot of the gals like Denise Cox dressed in period outfits to celebrate. Later, the WTGF Board was approached by past WTGS President Mary Van Der Loop to start and name a scholarship after a dear friend of hers, Jan Norwood, who had passed. This really got the ball rolling, so to speak. The board really wanted to expand her idea and include and honor all women, and so after many discussions we came up with ‘WinGS.’ Mary does have lunch with the recipient each year to get know them and share a little about her friend,” said Harmon.
The Efforts of WTGS
Each year, the WTGF awards several scholarships to undergraduate and graduate geology students from around the Permian Basin. In addition to the WinGS scholarship, they include:
• The Adams Scholarship was established 1972 and is awarded to a student studying Earth sciences at a school within the Permian Basin or who is doing research on the Permian Basin.
• The Lloyd Scholarship was established 1982 and is awarded to a student studying Earth sciences at a school within the Permian Basin or who is doing research on the Permian Basin.
• The Swanson Scholarship was established 1980 with an endowment from the Bert Swanson family. The recipient has to be a Midland Independent School District graduate and attend the University of Texas.
• The Hanson Scholarship was established in 2001. The recipient will be a student at Midland College with preference given to a science major in geology or environmental technology.
Party said the WTGF raises the capital through its annual fundraiser held in early April each year.
As examples of their yearly program, they have brought to Midland, Texas, the following renowned experts:
- Harrison Schmitt, the only geologist to walk on the moon
- Robert Ballard, who discovered the sunken Titanic
- Steven Squyres who was part of the Mars Rover Mission
- Sarah Parcak, a “space archaeologist”
- Sean Gulick, who spoke about the coring of the Chicxulub meteor crater in the Mexican Yucatan area
This year’s guest was Kirsten Siebach, a leading authority on Mars geology.
She is a doctoral student in geology working with John Grotzinger at Caltech and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is currently a member of the science and operations teams for the Mars Exploration Rovers and the Mars Science Laboratory. Her research focuses on understanding the history of water interacting with sediments on Mars through analysis of sedimentary rock textures and chemistry.