Two military veterans plus the dependent of a veteran, all of whom aspire to have careers as professional geoscientists, have been selected as this year’s recipients of the AAPG Foundation’s Deana and Paul Strunk Military Veterans Scholarships.
The 2023 recipients and their schools are:
- Sydney Cloutier, veteran dependent, U.S. Air Force, University of Miami
- Stephen Huffnus, sergeant, U.S. Marines, Colorado School of Mines
- Laurie Smith, sergeant, U.S. Army, Lake Superior State University
They become the 51st, 52nd and 53rd recipients of the Foundation’s MVSP, the first scholarships of which were awarded in 2015.
“We are extremely proud and excited to be able to assist those who have served their country with these scholarships,” Foundation chair Jim McGhay said as the awards were announced. “They and their families already have sacrificed much for their country – and, of course, that’s reason enough for recognition.
“But now they seek careers in the geosciences, the bedrock for society,” he continued, “and we believe these awardees will continue to serve their communities and societies through their studies and subsequent careers in the geoscience.”
Through the MVSP, the Foundation annually awards scholarships ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 to both active U.S. military service members (including National Guard and Reserves) or honorably discharged veterans who are entering or re-entering a post-secondary undergraduate program in the field of geoscience fulltime or parttime.
The scholarships are awarded to cover the costs of attending a four-year accredited college or university, helping in their transition to a civilian career in the geosciences.
Eligibility also includes dependents (spouses and children) of military personnel who are deceased, disabled, active and veteran.
“Since its inception, this program has been one of the most popular and, I believe, among our most important for those who support the Foundation,” McGhay noted. “With each new recipient we should remember and thank Paul and Deana Strunk for their dedication and inspiration in its creation, as well as the many who continue to support this initiative with their gifts to the Foundation.
“We are proud of these very fine students, and very happy to help them achieve their geoscience dreams,” he said.
“Returning to the academic world isn’t an easy task, so being able to provide this kind of support is good for them and worthy of the Foundation’s mission of providing for a strong geoscience future.”
This Year’s Honor Roll
When the AAPG Foundation committee members consider applicants for MVSP recognition, two factors are important.
One is financial need, of course, and this year’s recipients all noted the next step of their education would be difficult if not even impossible without the Foundation’s support.
But also considered is the quality of the applicant’s past work as well as their potential for geoscience excellence.
Of that, each of the recipient’s record speaks for itself.
- Three years ago the MVSP expanded to include dependents of military veterans. This year, Sydney Cloutier becomes the third dependent to be selected for the scholarship.
“My dad served in the Air Force for 21 years as an AC-130 and T-1 pilot (retiring as a lieutenant colonel). As a result, I grew up heavily surrounded by aviation,” she said. “I dreamed of one day becoming an astronaut for NASA.”
Not surprisingly, her early education and interests were heavily influenced by that dream. High school years in the Air Force JROTC resulted in honors, leadership recognition and the chance to even meet Sir Richard Branson and Gen. Jay Raymond – two space experts who encouraged her even more toward the stars.
Yet “around the same time,” she was inspired by her cousin – a former planetary geologist – to pursue geology in college. That led to enrollment in the University of Miami’s Marine Geosciences Department, which in turn cemented her commitment to planetary geology – specifically, a chance to map Martian waterbodies.
“In addition, I have experience studying analogous environments to celestial bodies, having conducted geological fieldwork on the Galapagos Islands volcanoes, and am preparing to study the Newfoundland ophiolites at my field camp in July,” she said.
“My experience (working) in our Coral Imaging Lab also allows me to perform groundbreaking 3-D renders of the ocean floor with Blender,” she said, “which I intend to apply to the topography of Mars.”
“I plan to develop a new technique for visualizing the geological features of Mars,” she added, “under the guidance of a PI in grad school.”
The MVSP scholarship is giving her the opportunity to make that dream a reality.
“I am truly honored to receive this scholarship, and I want to thank the MVSP for the invaluable support,” she said. “As a senior marine science/geological sciences student at the University of Miami, this scholarship will greatly impact my final year of college.
“I am genuinely grateful for your confidence in me and your investment in my education and future, Cloutier added. “This scholarship serves as a great motivation for me to strive for excellence.”
- Stephen Huffnus is an honorably-discharged sergeant from the U.S. Marines Corps who served two tours in combat zones (Iraq) and received seven military awards, including two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medals.
Prior to returning to school, he worked two jobs that piqued his interest in a geoscience career – as a drilling assistant for Shelton Drilling Corp., and as an MWD specialist for Mostar Directional.
That experience, he said, started his aspirations of a career in the geosciences.
“My main goal is to enhance our responsible usage of this valuable resource as well as to investigate alternative methods of managing natural geologic hazards, such as landslides, without relying on dewatering,” Huffnus said.
Having worked in the oil and gas industry and drilled water wells, as well as studying relevant coursework, he added, “I have witnessed firsthand how groundwater depletion can have a profound impact on communities.
“I am particularly interested in investigating the long-term effects of ditch companies creating impermeable layers to increase water flow downstream,” he said, “which can change water table levels in areas where the ditch is not used.
“The oil and gas industry takes great pride in ensuring that the surface casing is set up properly to safeguard groundwater,” he said.
“ … Companies are committed to protecting groundwater resources and minimizing their impact on the environment,” he added. “By contributing to the development of sustainable solutions and exploring innovative approaches in this field, I hope to make a positive impact on the environment and our society.”
Many of his professors at CSM agree that he is primed for the next step.
“Stephen exemplifies what hard work and commitment to studies can achieve,” said Holly Eklund, one of his professors. “This is likely a quality that will carry over into many of his future endeavors.”
“I am incredibly grateful (for the MVSP scholarship),” Huffnus said to the Foundation. “Your investment in my future is deeply appreciated, and I am committed to making the most of this opportunity.”
- Laurie Smith’s military record reads like something destined for a Hollywood movie: A story of brave, danger-filled, dedicated and meritorious service waiting to be told.
She’s also “passionate about geoscience,” with an “ultimate career goal … to become a skilled and knowledgeable professional in geology, with a particular focus on the exploration and sustainable management of natural resources.
“My ambition is to contribute to developing innovative, efficient and responsible practices in geoscience,” she said, “with a keen eye toward environmental protection and community engagement.”
She’s pursuing this goal at Lake Superior State University, on track to receive her bachelor’s degree in geology in spring 2024 before applying to graduate school for a master’s in geoscience.
But first, a bit about the military experience that led to her dream of a geology career.
Smith enlisted in 2004, and after basic training was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., where she trained in ordinance and ammunition handling, HAZMAT and infantry, including skills like room clearing, door-to-door raids and female search teams.
She served one tour in Iraq, then two tours in Afghanistan. By the end of her military career she had received 21 medals and honors, including:
- Two Bronze Star medals
- Purple Heart
- Meritorious Service Medal
- Three Army Achievement medals
- Global War on Terrorism Medal
- Combat Action Badge
Also among her accomplishments, recognition for service in the Science Olympiads at Alpena Community College.
This year Smith is enrolled in courses to help her “deepen my knowledge” of geology, hydrology, sedimentology, tectonics, GIS, remote sensing and environmental science.
“I also am taking a three-week advanced field geology course that will study sedimentary, igneous, metamorphic, structural and surficial process to create surface and subsurface presentations of the geology and integrated geologic interpretations of southwest Montana,” she said.
To date she has worked on geomorphology of the Au Sable River; mapping uranium concentration in groundwater in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; and volcanic activity monitoring using remote sensing – experiences that inspired one of her professors, Hari Kandel, to praise her “unparalleled curiosity, dedicated working principles … deep commitment and incessant enthusiasm toward geology.”
Smith herself says her goal is “to be better equipped to tackle complex problems related to resource management, such as water scarcity, mineral depletion and climate change.
“It is a great honor to be selected (for the MVSP),” she said. “I am extremely excited to develop new skills and problem-solving abilities this coming year … becoming a respectful and impactful geoscientist who can positively contribute to society.
“I cannot thank everyone enough … This scholarship will help me achieve my goals.”