F&M Stories

Donor Endows Geosciences Professorship to Honor Longtime Friend's F&M Teaching Career

Jane Woodward never attended Franklin & Marshall College, but she knew of the College's commitment to student-faculty research from Dorothy Merritts, her longtime friend and F&M professor of geosciences. When she learned Merritts had earned a national honor, Woodward wanted to honor her in an impactful way.

Woodward's $2 million gift to endow a geosciences professorship was announced at an Oct. 22 reception during True Blue Weekend, honoring Dorothy Merritts, the Harry W. and Mary B. Huffnagle Professor of Geosciences. In May, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) elected Merritts as a member, making her the first F&M professor accepted into the prestigious academy, a private, nonprofit society of distinguished scholars established in 1863. She is in her 30th year of service in F&M's Department of Earth and Environment.

When Merritts retires, the endowed professorship will be renamed the Dorothy J. Merritts, Ph.D. Endowed Professorship of Geosciences. Woodward holds a bachelor's degree in geology from the University of California-Santa Barbara and a master's degree in engineering and petroleum geology and MBA from Stanford University. She has been a leader in the energy transition, geology and engineering fields for more than four decades. She also has been an adjunct professor in Stanford University's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering since 1991.

"Jane Woodward's gift of an endowed professorship in honor of Dorothy Merritts is both powerful inspiration and very welcome acknowledgement," said Franklin & Marshall President Barbara K. Altmann. "Jane has encouraged others to join her in recognizing our faculty's outstanding research, and their pivotal role in teaching, advising and mentoring students to launch them into lives of success and meaning. I echo her encouragement. Our graduates will become the leaders the world needs to solve its most intractable challenges; our faculty are the intellectual guides who provide them with the confidence, creativity and determination to do so."

Woodward and Merritts met at Stanford when they were earning their master's degrees in applied earth science — the area where geology and civil engineering meet.

"We were part of a small group of Dick Jahns' last students. Dick was a legendary professor and geologist," Woodward recalls. "Dorothy and I stayed in touch as she earned her doctorate; raised her amazing daughter, Oona; and later met and married Bob (Walter, F&M professor of geosciences). We have remained such good friends because we admire each other so much and we've always been able to share stories and interests so easily."

While careers in engineering and petroleum geology are often associated with larger universities, Woodward said students at liberal arts colleges interested in those fields have unique opportunities. "Dorothy and I followed our interests, got to know faculty and looked for opportunities to work with them," Woodward said. "In many ways, students get more attention at a remarkable small liberal arts college like F&M than they might at a large research university, which gives them more opportunities to work with faculty. F&M is wonderfully oriented to helping students discover their interests and providing powerful real-world skills and deep learning."

Woodward's decades of experience have deepened her appreciation for field research opportunities, something Merritts has provided for scores of Franklin & Marshall students. "Scientific research in the field allows you to see the whole system and to see how aspects interact in ways you struggle to do in a classroom," Woodward said. "Field research is rare in undergraduate education. Graduate schools and employers value it highly. Dorothy and Bob's mantra is 'You can't fix it if you don't know how it works!'"

Woodward said she also was impressed by F&M's long history of quality undergraduate research. "The F&M geosciences program has been one of the top-ranked programs in the nation for over 60 years," she said. "My intent is not only to recognize the important work Dorothy and Bob do, but also their departmental colleagues in teaching, research, experiential learning and community restoration."

Woodward says Merritts represents a tradition of excellence in research that pervades the College.

"It is highly unusual for a small liberal-arts college to place such emphasis on independent student research under the tutelage of such outstanding faculty," Woodward said. "It's what sets F&M apart. These graduate-level research experiences as undergraduates instill students with the independence and confidence needed to solve big challenges, such as the future of energy, climate change, and water crises. There is no more urgent time to study the Earth than now, and I can't think of a better group to lead those studies than F&M graduates."

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