“The oil business for a geologist has its ups and downs,” says John A. Jackson, an oil businessman from Texas. Jackson, 88, wants the industry in Texas to continue to grow in the future. On July 10, he donated $25 million to the Geology Department at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin. Jackson’s wife, Katherine, supported the decision before her death on March 10.
Traditionally the geology department has been part of the college of Natural Sciences, and the university’s geoscientists have been scattered throughout three programs: the department of Geological Sciences, the Bureau of Economic Geology and the Institute for Geophysics. The new John A. and Katherine G. Jackson School of Geosciences will bring them together under one administration.
[[Right: John A. Jackson and University of Texas (UT) System Chancellor Dan Burck at the gift announcement and reception on the UT-Austin campus in July 2001.]]
Half of the money will be held in trust. The interest earned will support research in the area of water, energy and minerals. It will also help pay for faculty research leaves or support to researchers who would like to teach; to increase the holdings of the Geology Library; and to provide graduate student fellowships, a visiting scientist and post-doc program and endowed fellowships for research staff.
“Our goal is to increase the number of students here and to enhance their education,” says Bill Fisher, chair of the university’s Geology Foundation.
The Jacksons had already given $15 million to the department for a 60,000-square-foot extension onto the existing geology building for classrooms, offices and research labs. “That $15 million got us started,” Jackson says. “Then they said to us, well, would you consider a school? My wife always said we were a partnership. We worked together. We discussed it with each other and with members of the university. Katie and I wanted this used for geology acceleration. It is not a gift to the university, only to the department to accelerate the work of UT.”
Jackson became interested in geology and the oil business during the Depression, when he found work at a family gas plant. Jackson began college at UT in 1935 and has been partial to the university and its geology program ever since. “The most important thing in life is a diploma,” he says. “People today don’t put enough value on a diploma. Having the diploma was my motivation for going through the University of Texas.”
The idea of a diploma kept him going when he didn’t pass his first year of geology. In the 1930s, UT graded on a curve and allowed only the students who finished in the top half of the beginning geology class to continue. The rest had to retake the course.
When Jackson didn’t make the cut, the dean of students, Arno Nowotny, encouraged Jackson to attend a junior college for his basic courses and then come back to UT. He did, and graduated “with pretty good grades” in 1940.
Soon after college he put his knowledge to work for the U.S. Army, spending his World War II service locating bauxite for the Army’s aluminum needs. In 1959 he founded a company eventually called Katie Petroleum, after his wife. Jackson’s gift should ensure that the new school will have the same success.
Emily D. Johnson
Putting it in perspective
University geology departments in the United States generally do not see such large individual donations as John Jackson’s $25 million dollar gift. Indeed, “I think without question that was the largest donation to a geology department in North America,” says Donald O’Nesky, Deputy Executive Director of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Foundation.
Usually other departments receive outside money in the form of industry funds or small donations for scholarships. The University of Oklahoma matches $500,000 gifts with state government funding to create a million dollar endowed chair. The geology department currently has six endowed chairs and is anticipating a seventh soon.
Louisiana State University is trying to raise $5 million to endow its field camp. Most of the contributions have been from oil and gas programs, and they are currently at $1 million. The chair of the geology department, Brooks Ellwood, recalls an $800,000 gift from “many years ago.”
The recipient of Jackson’s gift, UT’s Geology Foundation, was established in 1953. Before Jackson’s donation it was valued at $54 million, used to provide chairs, professorships, lectureships, scholarships, library and equipment acquisitions, and collections. The Foundation receives $300,000 annually in scholarship gifts from industry, friends and alumni.