Geoscientists as leaders: our mission and its relationship to the The following is the text of an address given by former geology department chair Tom Hickson, on the occasion of the 2006 Alumni Gathering, held on November 30:
St. Thomas mission
Late last year and into the Fall semester, the geology faculty spent some time thinking about our mission. I must admit that I was not much of a "mission statement" kind of guy and "strategic planning" sounded--to this academic soul--a bit too much like corporate-speak. But I have become convinced that it is vitally important for a department to have a clear idea of what it is trying to do, to have something to point to, to reflect against, to provide us something solid with which to evaluate our progress. So we agreed on the following:The geology department seeks to support the UST Mission by providing a challenging program that welcomes all students into science, allows students to grow as individuals and stewards of the planet, and creates scientifically-informed problem-solvers
I think that I would like to emphasize two elements of this mission statement tonight: "supporting the UST mission" and "stewardship of the planet."
Consider the St. Thomas mission:Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good.
It is the goal of the St. Thomas mission to "advance the common good" and it is in this way that I feel that geology is uniquely poised amongst the sciences (and, indeed, amongst all of the departments at UST) to support this mission.
Your degrees say, or will say, "geology". But this is, as you all know, an oversimplification. Geology is the study of the Earth, how it works, and how it will
work in the future. It is fundamentally an interdisciplinary science, and as a result, is fundamentally a science for the liberal arts. It is a science that can welcome non-scientists and somehow, magically, turn them into scientists. It is a science of careful observation and interpretation and as a geologist, we know how to work with scant and conflicting data: the stuff of the real world.
If we consider protecting our planet synonymous with protecting the common good (which, I would vehemently argue, we must begin to do more consciously and conscientiously), who else understands what is "normal" for the earth? Who else can say whether we are being good stewards, given that humans have only been around for a couple million years and, as you all know, that the Earth worked perfectly well without them (give or take a few mass extinctions)? Who better than geoscientists to serve as morally responsible leaders?
It is in this sense that we intentionally used the phrase "stewards of the planet" in our mission: how can one be a steward of something they do not understand? How can we protect one of the most fundamental elements of "the common good" without having some notion of how this complex, beautiful, violent, and always-engaging planet functions? In this respect, you--as geologists--play a unique role in supporting the morals and values of this university--whether you are Catholic, Lutheran, atheist, Wiccan, Baptist, or agnostic--because you are the people that can most effectively integrate the sciences and apply what you know to very complex issues like:
- The role of humans in global warming
- Predicting hazards like tsunami and coastal flooding
- Understanding how to create a clean and safe water supply
- How to use resources in a sustainable fashion, whether it's oil, iron, or platinum group elements
And each of us knows that "protecting the common good" is also a matter of social justice. That inequities in resource allocation and use are fundamentally tied to issues of poverty. That natural disasters disproportionately effect the poorest in our world. If this is not a nexus for faith and science, I don't know what one is. This is substantiated by a letter sent to Senator Norm Coleman last week, signed by Archbishop Flynn and 27 other Minnesota faith leaders--including rabbis and imams--urging him to support global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and calling global warming a "religious issue".
What we hope to do in geology at St. Thomas is "create morally responsible leaders" that are uniquely scientifically trained to become better stewards of our planet. Many of you--whether you come from the Brownstein/Farnham era or are of the more recent Lamb/Hickson/Theissen lineage--have become leaders of this type by default. You may not know it, you may not feel it, but your uniquely geological perspective on the world has an impact on you and your relationships. You may only be a leader sometime. You may only lead a few people at random times in your life. But I would encourage you to consider what you, as geoscientists (practicing or non-practicing), bring to the table and how you can lead on issues that will "advance the common good".