They did so much for their country. They dream of doing so much more as geoscientists who ensure energy for a power-demanding world.
And now to help those dreams come true, the AAPG Foundation is doing something for them.
Three former members of the U.S. Armed Forces have been named the 2021 recipients of financial aid from the AAPG Foundation’s Deana and Paul Strunk Military Veterans Scholarship Program, an initiative started in 2015 to support education and career opportunities for veterans who are transitioning to a civilian life in the geosciences.
Each were selected from a pool of applicants by the Foundation’s MVSP Committee, chaired by Earl Wells, just in time for scholarship help for the current school semester. All are full-time students and will receive $5,000 to help meet their education expenses.
“What really stood out in this year’s group of applicants was their passion for the geosciences, academic rigor and sense of optimism,” Wells said.
AAPG Foundation Chair Jim Gibbs enthusiastically agreed.
“Certainly, the MVSP is not only one of our most popular programs based on its many generous contributors, but also one that is uniquely special in its purpose,” said Gibbs. “Each year we have the pleasure and honor of providing educational support to people who have personally sacrificed years of their lives for a greater cause, and who now are looking to make a difference for years to come through their love of geology and the geosciences.”
“They are each very special, very dedicated and, in fact, excellent in all they’ve been able to achieve,” Gibbs added. “They are intelligent, creative and totally committed to making the world a better place.
“We couldn’t be prouder to offer our support, and we look forward to them providing significant contributions to the world of geosciences.”
This year’s recipients are:
● Kelvin H.S. McConnell, previously an E4 with the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Shaw Air Force Base near Sumter, S.C., and currently part of the Air National Guard at McGhee Tyson ANG near Alcoa, Tenn. He is majoring in geosciences at East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tenn.
● Justin Sharpe, retired E5 with the U.S. Navy, where as a USN Seabee construction mechanic he saw duty in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. He currently is pursuing a master’s degree in geology at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
● Frank Tribble, previously a sergeant (E5) with the U.S. Marines, serving in California, Virginia, Jakarta, Indonesia and Zagreb, Croatia. He is pursuing a geology degree at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo.
They bring the total number of MVSP recipients to 47 since the program was started in 2015 – an idea suggested, promoted and implemented thanks largely to the passion for and generous contributions to the idea from Foundation stalwarts Deana and Paul Strunk.
Through the MVSP, scholarships are available to both active U.S. military service members – including National Guard and Reserve – and honorably discharged veteran members who are entering or re-entering a post-secondary program in a field of geoscience.
As of 2020, eligibility also includes military dependents (spouses and children) for those who are deceased or disabled, active or veteran.
The funds are intended for costs associated with education, including tuition, fees, books and eligible living expenses.
“When we started this, the hope was to help veterans enter our ranks as petroleum geologists,” Wells said. “The model has changed to some extent – it’s difficult to gain entry into the industry for many students given the economic realities on the ground.
“The mission ultimately was and is to support the geosciences and give back to veterans,” Wells continued. “Most of the award winners plan to pursue research or other applications of the geosciences. Though they likely won’t be drilling wells, they will still be making important contributions to the advancement of the geosciences.
“I think that’s something we can all understand and be proud of.”
(Information on applying for an MVSP grant can be found at foundation.aapg.org/military-veterans-scholarship-program-requirements-guidelines.)
A Common Theme: Better Tomorrows
This year’s three MVSP recipients, despite experiencing three different branches of the military, share more than a common goal of continuing their careers in the geosciences – they are working to use their skills to ensure a better future.
For example, Kelvin McConnell confessed that “every day I wake up and wonder how I can be more efficient, more environmentally friendly and how to be a better person … I am not satisfied sitting still and always look for improvements, and I want to continue this process as a field geologist.
“I believe this scholarship, combined with my wide range of unique experiences, will help forge a robust career where I can make a positive difference.”
Frank Tribble, who saw action in a variety of international locations, said his dream was to be a geologist with the Army Corps of Engineers, where he “will be better able to continue serving the nation and its people.”
Transitioning out of the military “was a difficult time,” Tribble added, but “after taking an introductory geology course with my current adviser, I realized what I wanted to pursue in life – a career in the geosciences.”
Working with the Army Corps of Engineers would be especially appealing to him, he said, because “it is a career that would be both a familiar setting to work in and bring new challenges and experiences.”
For Justin Sharpe, the excitement of his new opportunity is obvious and rewarding in its own way.
“I have wanted to be a geologist since I was a little kid, and I’m finally achieving that dream at 37,” he said. “Starting college at 34 was not easy at first, but I have found a real passion in my education and future.”
His research as a graduate student will be in the field of paleoenvironment and paleoclimate, he said. And he’s anxious to continue what already seems to have been a good start in his new career.
In fact, last fall Sharpe was chosen to join his professor, AAPG member Alexis Godet, for an undergraduate research project, funded by the National Science Foundation and presented earlier this year at the South-Central GSA conference. That experience – “a testimony of Justin’s professionalism, engagement in research and attention to detail,” Godet said – helped his selection to his current status in the University of Texas at San Antonio graduate program.
A Vision Realized
Wells, while full of praise for this year’s MVSP recipients, had a lot of accolades for the Foundation committee members who worked to make the program possible.
“We’ve really got a stellar group of veterans on the committee,” Wells said. “They put in a lot of hard work this year, like they do every year.”
Wells is particularly proud that “many of them (committee members) have been forward deployed. They’ve successfully navigated the process of transitioning out of the military and into careers as petroleum geologists.
“Now they are paying it forward and helping other folks find the ladder,” he added.
He particularly cited the late AAPG member Clint Moore, who was deeply involved in the program’s creation and who “left a legacy of service … it’s fitting that this scholarship lives on to serve veterans and the geosciences.”
And Wells, himself a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, feels “so proud and honored to have been a part of the MVSP initiative.
“It can be tough getting out of the military,” he said. “It means losing a sense of purpose, and mission – it’s a blow to the ego. Veterans need to find the next mission so they can move forward and find a new tribe, and this scholarship helps to alleviate the financial hardship associated with pursuing a new mission in the geosciences.
“It makes me happy to help, even if only in a small way,” he added.
Of course, the MVSP wouldn’t exist without the dedicated support of those who contribute to the Foundation.
“It is really inspiring to have received all the support and encouragement from the Foundation and membership for this process,” he said. “I think they all saw the value of helping support the geosciences while giving back to veterans.
“I’m excited that we are paying it forward and supporting the geosciences,” he said. “To me, that is a win-win.”
Additional information about the MVSP, including how you can contribute to the scholarship fund, can be found on the AAPG Foundation website, or contact [email protected]