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Bureau Director Not Slowing Down In ‘Retirement’

SOCORRO, N.M. August 1, 2011 – Dr. Peter Scholle is wearing new hats these days.

Instead of leading one of Tech’s largest research divisions, Scholle will now devote his time to research, instruction and mentoring students.

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Peter Scholle (left) talks with Steve Welch at a retirement party at Macey Center in late July.
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Peter Scholle, outgoing director of the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, presents a field lesson in geology to the staff of Sen. Jeff Bingaman during the Senator's annual retreat in 2009.

Photos by Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech

Scholle officially stepped down as director of the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources at the end of June. He was welcomed into “retirement” by friends and colleagues at a reception in late June at Macey Center.

“Peter will be sorely missed, but fortunately he’ll stay around and contribute through teaching and research,” Lopez said. “He is an asset to the university. I’ve really enjoyed working with him. He’s a consummate professional and a real good guy.”

Colleagues from the Bureau and the university sang his praises as a scientist, administrator and educator.

Scholle said he hopes his tenure is noted for his efforts to improve communications to the general public about geoscience.

“We worked hard – Greer Price and I and a whole host of others – to design new publications, like Earth Matters, and the Decision-Makers Conference book,” Scholle said. “We put out publications for these meetings where we could take people out to see the reality of Earth science issues. We have remarkably uninformed debate [about Earth sciences] in this country and we wanted to raise the level of debate.”

Deputy director – and interim director – of the Bureau Greer Price said that the Bureau’s outreach program flourished under Scholle’s leadership.

“In general, our publications for the general public achieved a level of professionalism and success that we never had before.”

Bureau publication sales more than tripled from 2000 to 2010, Price said. The Bureau also transitioned from mainly printed materials to online delivery.

Lopez and Greer said Scholle had an important and lasting influence through briefing the New Mexico legislature, guiding funding requests and maintaining high positive visibility for the Bureau.

“He increased external funding to the Bureau from federal support, but perhaps more importantly he found unique state funding sources,” Lopez said.

“He helped us establish a big presence with the state legislature and informing lawmakers about the importance of what we do and who we are,” Price said.

The Bureau hosted six Decision-Maker’s Conferences, which brought together state, federal and local officials for two or three days of discussion and education about geology, hydrology and industry in New Mexico.

“Those conferences were a hugely important and effective part of the Bureau’s outreach program,” Price said. “The conferences had an effect that went well beyond the two or three days.”

The New Mexico Aquifer Mapping program was born during Scholle’s tenure. Now in its fifth year, the program now is its own line item in the state budget.

“That is a highly successful component of our program and it wouldn’t exist without Peter,” Price said. “Now, it’s a critical part of what we do and reflects our emphasis on water issues. Initially, state surveys had to do with oil, gas, mining and other issues. In New Mexico, the issue that captures people’s imagination is water – our most precious resource.”

Price said Scholle’s leadership on a national level is another lasting impact for the Bureau and for New Mexico Tech.

Scholle has served as the president of two professional geology groups over the past 10 years – the American Association of State Geologists and the American Geological Institute.

“Our involvement with both organizations on a national level was a real boon for us,” Price said. “The Bureau has always had a good reputation,” Price said. “We’ve always had a good survey, but I’d say that the New Mexico Bureau has continued to be seen as one of the strongest under Peter’s leadership. Other states look to us.”

Through his national leadership roles, Scholle often met with Congressional leaders to secure funding for Earth science research and “to let them know why geosciences are important,” Price said.

Until taking the reins at the Bureau in 1999, Scholle was a career scientist, researcher and educator. Once in Socorro, he embraced the role of administrator and chief executive.

“Peter had a track record of high achievement in academics and as a researcher to the Bureau,” Tech President Dr. Daniel H. Lopez said. “The combination of his background and his mix of skills made him an excellent administrator in the higher education environment. He provided great leadership for his team, but at the same time, he provided strong support to the administration.”

Scholle started his career as a lab researcher for Cities Service Oil Co., then returned to academia as an assistant professor at the University of Texas-Dallas for three years. In 1974, he started a nine-year stint with the U.S. Geological survey, including three years as the Chief of Oil and Gas Resources in Denver.

After two years with Gulf Research Co. in Houston, Scholle accepted a position of professor of geology at Southern Methodist University, where he stayed for 14 years.

“Peter is a straight-shooter,” Lopez said. “He is very thoughtful and cooperative. It was always a delight to work with him.

Dr. Rick Aster of the Earth and Environmental Science Department said Scholle fostered an environment of enhanced collaboration between the academic departments and the Bureau.

“He’s done a great job of shepherding the Bureau,” Aster said. “He maintained the Bureau’s outstanding level of service to the state of New Mexico, all while ensuring that the Bureau stays a vital part of the academic part of the university.”

Aster and professor Dr. Andrew Campbell both said Scholle fostered the atmosphere of collaboration.

“There’s always been some cooperation [between the Bureau of Geology and the Earth Science Department], but there’s been more systematic effort with Peter in charge,” Campbell said. “From the department perspective, we look forward to continuing to work with him … now that he has more time.”

Scholle earned his bachelor’s in geology from Yale University in 1965. He then spent a year at the University of Munich on a Fulbright Fellowship, followed by a year at the University of Texas. He earned his master’s in 1969 and his doctorate in 1970, both in geology and both at Princeton University.

In his “retirement,” Scholle plans to devote more time to travel and adventure, rockhounding and mineral cutting, photography, woodworking, playing with his dogs, visiting his children and grandchildren and … science.

He is teaching a graduate-level course this fall in carbonate sedimentology. He also aims to get back to his research interests, particularly in chalks.

“There are huge oil reservoirs in Europe and it’s becoming more important in the U.S.,” Scholle said. “Chalks are extremely fine-grained limestones. New drilling technology makes it possible to extract petroleum from these deposits. However, there’s a lot of knowledge that still needs to be gained to fully exploit those resources.”

He and his wife, Dana, recently spent a week in Midland, Texas, teaching a course in petroleum geology.

The Scholles have no plans on leaving the area. They’re perfectly content to live in their dream house outside of Magdalena.

“I’m proud to have been here 12 years,” he said. “This is a great place and I don’t plan to abandon it now.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech