November 18, 2011

From the desk of Dean Miller

November 18, 2011

Howdy from your Dean!

Dear Colleagues,

Today, I am pleased to hand over this issue's message to Dr. Sarah Bednarz, associate dean for academic affairs. Among other duties, Dr. Bednarz plays an important role in keeping up with University requirements and rules related to teaching, learning and degrees, as well as in helping faculty and staff advisors assist students in successfully completing their degrees. Below, she gives an update on College activities in this area.

Have a great week.

Kate Miller
Dean, College of Geosciences

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Dear Colleagues:

I welcome this opportunity to share information about a range of academic issues in the College and University in this issue of the Biweekly Briefing.

Sarah BednarzDr. Sarah Bednarz with a statue of Japanese cartoon character Doraemon in Tokyo.


Academic Advising
First, a shout-out to the faculty and academic advisors of the College who spend hours as members of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and the Graduate Instruction and Curriculum Committee. They review new course proposals, devise improvements to existing degree plans, and evaluate and set new policies and procedures related to curriculum and instruction for the College. These individuals (see the list below) meet monthly to make decisions, set future agendas, and advise me. So many of the current driving issues in the University relate to concerns like progress to degree, enrollment management, and curricular cohesion; all of these are items we have discussed repeatedly in both committees in the last year. The agendas and supporting materials for both committees are posted online.



Again, we all owe thanks to: 

UCC 2011–12: Dan Thornton, Christine Arnold, Craig Epifanio, Charles Lafon, Gail Rowe, Andy Hajash, Michael Rivas, Don Collins, Emily Dykes, Sonia Garcia, Roxanna Russell.

GICC 2011–12: Dan Thornton, Christine Arnold, Istvan Szunyogh, Christian Brannstrom, Gail Rowe, Mark Everett, Michael Rivas, Ron Kaiser, Eric Riggs, Roxanna Russell.

Second, another shout-out for a second group of your colleagues who provide immeasurable service to the College—the Assessment Committee. Assessment is a key component of our accreditation process and an excellent and significant way to improve our programs. How do we know whether our students are learning, succeeding after they graduate, or achieving goals like life-long learning without some sort of data collection and reflection? The members of the Assessment Committee will be sharing information with you at upcoming faculty meetings. I hope they let you know about the extensive commitment we share to assess student learning and to make that data public through the WEAVE-Online system. As I write, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) are accessing our assessment data to judge whether we are worthy of accreditation. You will have this Committee (and members from the past) to thank for our continued success.

Geosciences Assessment Committee, 2011–12: Dan Thornton, Shaima Nasiri, Istvan Szunyogh, Robert S. Bednarz, Andrew Klein, Bob Popp, Tom Yancey, Ron Kaiser, Don Collins, Roxanna Russell.

General Studies
Another pressing item is the shift in University policies to evaluate General Studies. The university's goal is to diminish the number of students in General Academic Programs, coded on your enrollment sheets as GEST. Exact mechanisms to move students from General Academic Programs into majors have not been developed or approved. Nonetheless it is clear that there will be an effect on the migration of students to our programs. The College is consulting with UCC representatives on the wisdom of a proposal to allow qualified students in good academic standing, on a one-time basis, to move into our College even if they have not completed a course in their intended major. New majors will be limited in programs with enrollment management (METR and GEPL) and more open (although still limited to numbers identified in a previous enrollment management exercise) in Geography, Environmental Studies, and Environmental Geosciences. I would welcome your thoughts here. And watch for ongoing developments in this rapid policy shift.

You may have recently seen stories in the press about the vote of the University of Texas System regents to take a 22.5 percent stake in Austin-based MyEdu Corp. Access to information sold to individuals through MyEdu is available free to everyone on campus. You can search by semester and College the grade distribution for each course and faculty instructor—for free. Did I say, without registration or cost?

Finally, I want to personally thank you for complying with the myriad requests from the University for course related information—syllabi, cv, mid-term grades, final grades. The academic advisors and I spend a great deal of time reminding faculty to fulfill these guidelines. The vast majority of you comply with minimal nagging. However, may I request you exert positive peer pressure on your colleagues to ensure we all meet expectations with the minimum of effort. This goes equally for College requests related to field-based experiences. Setting the dates for such excursions so students have complete information when they register for classes can only help ensure student participation and minimize conflict.

In conclusion, I can think of lots of other issues and items to discuss. What I want to know, however, are the issues you think I can help you with. Please call me at 845-4457 to set up an appointment for a time I can visit with you in your office about academic issues, concerns, and opportunities


Sarah Bednarz
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Geosciences 

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For more information about university events visit TamuTimes.


Geochemical & Environmental Research Group (GERG) employees held a year-long snack sale to raise money to be donated through the State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC). GERG raised $650.00 this year and all proceeds from the fundraiser were donated to local charities. For more information about GERG's charitable work, read their news release.

The College of Geosciences will hold its Donor Recognition and Scholarship Event Friday, March 2, 2012.

James Wade (GERG) was recently honored for his service in World War II in the 2011 Salute to Veterans by The Eagle. For more information, read the announcement on GERG's website.

Professional Activities


Dr. Jose Sericano (GERG) was a coauthor in the journals Chemosphere and Environmental Pollution: 

Cipro, C.V.Z., G.T. Yogui, P. Bustamante, S. Taniguchi, J.L. Sericano, R.C. Montone, 2011. Organic pollutants and their correlation with stable isotopes in vegetation from King George Island, Antarctica. Chemosphere 85 (3): 393–398.

Mora, M.A., C. Baxter, J.L. Sericano, A.B. Montoya, J.C. Gallardo, J.R. Rodríguez-Salazar, 2011. PBDEs, PCBs, and DDE in eggs and their impacts on aplomado falcons (Falco femoralis) from Chihuahua and Veracruz, Mexico. Environmental Pollution 159 (12): 3433–3438.

IODP has published its program update for October on the Ocean Leadership website. 


Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon
(ATMO) will speak about the Texas drought in Washington, D.C., Friday, Dec. 2. The event, titled "Drowning and Drought: Extreme Weather Impacts on our Economy and Society" is a lunch briefing over extreme weather hazards and how the country can prepare. For more information about the event, see the program's page on the AAAS website. 

Steve Sweet lecturingSteve Sweet (GERG) giving a presentation to students at O. Henry Middle SchoolANTARCTIC SCIENCE
Dr. Andrew Klein (GEOG), Steve Sweet (GERG), and Terry Palmer (TAMCC) visited O. Henry Middle School in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 19. The Aggie geoscientists gave lectures on the scientific research they conduct in Antarctica to over 1,000 students. In addition to providing lectures for six groups of students, they also spoke with the Polar Club, whose goal is to learn about Antarctica and disseminate that information to their fellow students. For more information
, read the GERG news release.

Dr. Mahlon Kennicutt (OCNG) spoke before the "Review of the US Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel(BRP)" Nov. 3. The panel, designed to ensure that the U.S. Antarctic Program is on the right scientific track, was established by President Obama and is overseen by Obama's Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren. Kennicutt delivered a 20 minute briefing titled "Antarctic Science: The Next 20 years and participated in a discussion of the future in Antarctic and Southern Ocean research.

For background information on the Blue Ribbon Panel, visit their website.


Geology graduate student Sandra Marek with the Guadalupe Mountains in the backgroundGeology graduate student Sandra Marek with the Guadalupe Mountains in the background


Dr. Michael Pope
(G&G) and 13 graduate students traveled to the Guadalupe Mountains in southern New Mexico Oct. 15–23 to study carbonate rocks in the Permian Reef complex. Pope and his students met up with a group from Shell, who funded the trip.

Dr. Andrew Hajash (G&G) led a group of 17 students on a field trip to Big Bend National Park Oct. 19–23. The trip was part of the one-hour course GEOL 330, and involved a pre-trip test and post-trip test to measure what the students learned about geology.

For a first-hand account of the trip from a student perspective, read the first "A Day in the Life of a Student" feature on Facebook.


Group photo of Geosciences people at IYC symposium in Washington, D.C.Group photo of Geosciences people at IYC symposium in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Renyi Zhang
(ATMO) organized a meeting Nov. 7–10 in Washington, D.C. Part of the International Year of Chemistry, this symposium focused on stratospheric ozone and climate and recognizes the achievements of the 1987 Montreal Protocol and 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment. It featured speakers from different areas of science, policy, and industry; poster sessions; and a recorded speech by 41st President George Bush.

The following people from the College were involved in this meeting:

Professors: Drs. Renyi Zhang, Gerald North, Shari Yvon-Lewis, Sarah Brooks, Daniel Thornton, Andrew Dessler, and R. Saravanan

Graduate students: Li Shen, Eric Chan, Mengran Du, Cameron Homeyer, Tao Wang, Qi Ying, Jonathan Vogel, Chen Zhou, Yuan Wang, and Chunhua Deng

Conference coordinator: Caitlin Nichols-Riley

From the Dean's office: Drs. Jack Baldauf and Eric Riggs

Media coordinator: George Hale

For more information about the symposium see the Texas A&M news release and the event program. Also, see media coverage of the event in the news section below.

Advisors from A&M and UT at the NACADA Conference
Advisors from A&M and UT at the NACADA Conference

Academic advisors Gail Rowe (GEOG) and Emily Dykes (ENVP) attended the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) Annual National Conference in Denver Oct. 2–5. Nearly 3,000 advisors from across the United States and internationally attended this conference as a professional development opportunity.


Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon (ATMO) has been named a Regents Professor for 2010-2011. Nielsen-Gammon is one of 13 professors from around the Texas A&M System and one of four professors from Texas A&M University to be chosen for this award.

Nielsen-Gammon was chosen for his achievements in teaching, research, and service as a professor of atmospheric sciences and as Texas State Climatologist. The Texas A&M Board of Regents established the Regents Professor Award program in 1996 as a way to recognize professors who have demonstrated excellence in service to the university and the community.

For a list of 2010-2011 award recipients and information about the history and selection process for the Regents Awards, visit the Regents Awards website

A Bird, A Fish, A Turtle posterAward winning poster, A Bird, A Fish, A Turtle, presented by Fiona Wilmot (GEOG) and Alfredo Quarto. Poster was designed by Jennifer Rumford.BEST POSTER AWARD
Geography doctoral student Fiona Wilmot and Alfredo Quarto of the Mangrove Action Project, USA, received the Best Poster award for their poster A Bird, A Fish, A Turtle at the fifteenth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice for the Secretariat Convention on Biological Diversity, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Environment Programme, in Montreal, Canada, Nov. 7–11.

Geography doctoral candidate Pablo Granados-Dieseldorff was recently awarded a Steven Berkeley Marine Conservation Fellowship by the American Fisheries Society. This international fellowship is awarded to graduate students doing research relevant to marine conservation. Granados-Dieseldorff was one of three students to receive this year's fellowship. For more about the award and his research, read our story on GeoNews.

Dr. William Sager (OCNG / G&G) was profiled in the physics department newsletter at his alma mater, Duke University.


PolarTREC teacher Michelle Brown puts a jacket on a studentPolarTREC teacher Michelle Brown puts a jacket on a student

Dr. Andrew Klein
(GEOG), Steve Sweet (GERG), and Terry Palmer (TAMCC) are featured in a piece in the Austin American-Statesman by Austin science teacher Michelle Brown. Brown will accompany geosciences researchers to Antarctica Nov. 8–Dec. 15 to participate in a program to study human environmental contamination at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Brown is part of the PolarTREC program, an effort funded by the National Science Foundation that sends teachers to polar regions to work with scientists and share their experiences with students and the public.

For more information about the PolarTREC program, Brown's experiences, read:

Teacher's passion for science, students takes her to Antarctica

Austin teacher's schedule in Antarctica

The Why Files, a science news website founded as part of the National Institute of Science Education, has published an article about the ongoing drought, titled Drought and searing heat in Texas: Is this the face of global warming? 

Part of this feature is an essay on drought and climate change by Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon (ATMO).

Dr. Zhang's IYC symposium in Washington, D.C., has received several media hits.

Science News

Dirty air fosters precipitation extremes 

Contrasting the concerns over climate and ozone loss

NASA's What on Earth blog

 Why ozone monitoring still matters

The Battalion

Students, faculty address climate issues with politicians in D.C.


Air pollution leads to precipitation pattern shifts


Calendar items are also posted on the College of Geosciences Facebook page. 

Nov. 21
4 p.m. O&M: "Effect of Chicxulub impact on the northern Gulf of Mexico." Erik Scott, Marathon Oil Company.

Nov. 22
3:55 p.m. O&M: "The effect of drought stress on carbon assimilation and isoprene emission capacities of oak species in urban and rural areas of Texas." Dr. Csengele Barta, Texas A&M Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

Nov. 29
3:55 p.m. O&M: "Multispectral photoacoustic analysis of atmospheric aerosol." Dr. Patrick Arnott, University of Nevada.

Nov. 30
3:30 p.m. Scoates: "Groundwater monitoring from space." Dr. James Famiglietti, University of California, Irvine.

Back to top

The next issue is Dec. 9. Please submit items of general interest to the College to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it no later than Wednesday, Dec. 7. 

Dr. Kate C. Miller, Dean
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