Endowment Honoring Late Geologist Supports Geoscience Field-Based Opportunities
The Ron V. Fodor Endowment will support geoscience student research, travel and field-based experiences in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
In his 41 years at NC State, the late geologist Ron Fodor made an impact on several generations of students. A strong proponent of field-based education and research, Fodor instilled in his students an appreciation for collecting their own data.
Three of his former students, Brian Dombroski, Mike Mohr and Katie Singer — along with his life partner, Peggy McIntyre — have decided to honor him by establishing the Ron V. Fodor Endowment, ensuring that he continues to leave a mark on generations of NC State students to come. The fund will support geoscience student research, travel and field-based experiences in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (MEAS).
‘No Substitute for Hands-on Learning’
On a 117-degree day in the summer of 2007, Fodor, Singer, who now works as the director of policy and research at the New England Board of Higher Education, and Dombroski, now a senior geologist at Novo Oil & Gas, were mapping a lava field in Arizona as part of Singer’s field research toward her master’s degree.
Singer and Dombroski, who had come along as a field assistant, wore full gear and carried special water bottles. Fodor wore jeans, a T-shirt and a fisherman’s hat, and carried two small plastic water bottles in his book bag. By noon, the two then-graduate students were ready to call it a day — “the rocks were so hot you couldn’t touch them,” said Singer — but Fodor had other ideas.
“We got back to the car, and Katie and I were cooked,” said Dombroski. “But Ron set off to the top of a knoll, as if it were a normal 75-degree day, to collect more samples. We were just impressed that a man in his 60s was faring better than us on the field.”
Through the Ron V. Fodor Endowment, the group seeks to honor Fodor’s zeal for field work and inspire a similar enthusiasm in newer geologists.
“He believed geologists really need to understand what they’re dealing with as opposed to simply running data through a model,” said Dombroski. “You’re missing so much of the picture if you don’t go out in the field and gather the data yourself.”
The fund is also a way for them to pay forward Fodor’s commitment to securing funds for their own field research opportunities.
In Arizona, the research opportunity was unique in that no one had studied that lava field before — Singer even got to name it. She also published her work, which is rare for a master’s student.
“As a master’s student, I had opportunities that no other student in the country had, because Ron made it happen,” said Singer. “And it was never a situation where I had to cover my own flight and hotel and figure it out. Ron just made it happen. I don’t know how.”
For Mohr’s field research and analysis, Fodor helped him successfully apply for a grant from the Geological Society of America and covered the rest from his own funds.
Mohr, now a postdoctoral research fellow at Boise State University, still does active research on the rocks he studied with Fodor in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.
Given their experiences with Fodor, Dombroski, Mohr and Singer want the next generation of geologists to benefit from field observations and the experience of collecting their own data — without stressing about the cost.
“There’s no substitute for hands-on learning — there’s no more powerful teaching tool,” said Dombroski. “I want to keep that alive because, coming from industry, I feel like a lot of the newer geologists I’ve met don’t have that kind of experience.”
Rewarding Curiosity, Cultivating Community
Fodor nurtured his students’ interest in geology, and his expertise and guidance made a decades-long impact on their personal and professional lives.
“Ron called himself a slow processor. He said it took him a while to catch on to things, so he had compassion for students with different learning styles,” said McIntyre. “When it came to graduate students, he didn’t necessarily look for the students with the highest grades. He looked for a particular mindset, passion and dedication.”
Dombroski recognizes himself as one such student.
“My grades before I discovered geology were pretty poor,” said Dombroski. “But I think the reason Ron wanted me — he specifically requested that I be his graduate student — is because he saw my passion. I’m almost 100% sure that had it not been for Ron, I would not have gotten into any other graduate program. He stuck up for me that much.”
McIntyre, Dombroski, Mohr and Singer seek to carry on Fodor’s spirit of mentorship by using the endowment to create community among geologists at NC State and beyond. Throughout the journey of establishing the endowment, McIntyre, Dombroski, Mohr and Singer have leaned on each other and their personal networks. Through their organized efforts, their goal to reach the required $50,000 within five years to have the endowment funded in perpetuity is well within reach. They’ve each pledged money and have received donations from their colleagues and old friends of Fodor’s, raising nearly $28,000 so far.
They also hope to build a stronger MEAS community by sponsoring the Coffee and Rocks initiative through the endowment. Named after Fodor’s two favorite things, the idea is for Coffee and Rocks to be an annual event that brings together geology faculty, students and alumni. The first event — a field trip in the Raleigh area — is planned for November.
“A lot of geology is experience-based,” said Dombroski. “Leveraging the decades of experience of seasoned geologists can really help bring younger geologists up to speed in their knowledge and serve as a springboard into their careers.”
McIntyre describes Fodor as humble and introverted, someone who might’ve felt uncomfortable with the grand gesture she and his former students are spearheading.
“Ron would be so embarrassed knowing his students thought this much of him,” said McIntyre. “But he would be very excited about the purpose of the endowment.”
Follow @RonsCoffeeAndRocks for updates on Coffee and Rocks events.