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Department Newsletters

Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

2020-2029 Award Recipients


D. Mark Jones (MS 2000)

Mark Jones

I’ve been with the Ohio Geological Survey for a total of 17 years, having started as an intern while  still in school. While enrolled at Cleveland State University, I attended Kent State as an  undergraduate visiting student. I also attended KSU’s field camp as an undergrad and attended  KSU full-time as a graduate assistant in the MS program, and I graduated with an MS in Geology  in 2000.

Relocating to Columbus, Ohio, I worked in environmental consulting, eventually becoming  employed with Metcalf & Eddy (now AECOM). Employed as a subcontractor to FEMA and US  EPA, I provided technical expertise and assistance following natural disasters and the World  Trade Center attack and did geologic mapping in the Central Valley of California. I returned to  the Ohio Geological Survey in 2008 as a geologist studying Lake Erie (limnology, sedimentology,  erosion, and salt mining). In 2013 I took over as manager of the Survey’s core repository and  added core archival and preservation as a career focus. I’ve also been studying thin-skinned tectonics as evidenced by Devonian and Mississippian rocks in Ohio, continuing an interest related to my MS thesis.

I became State Geologist and Chief of the Survey in 2021. I’ve made digital preservation of and access to the core repository one of my key interests, as well as advancing Ohio’s geoheritage and geotourism.

KSU was indispensable to me, providing a lifeline to complete my undergraduate degree. Based on that short experience, I was impressed enough with the program and the professors to enroll in the graduate program, and I’ve always been proud to call myself an alumnus of Kent State.


Joseph Hannibal (MS 1980, PhD 1990)

I came to geology late, taking my first course at Cuyahoga Community College at night while employed as a librarian (having earned an Anthropology Degree and a Master of Library Science degree at KSU). The night-course was an eye-opener, rekindling an interest I had in geology as a kid after finding fossils in my yard, including bones of a Dunkleosteus. Eventually I ended up back at Kent State to earn a master's and Ph.D. in the Department of Geology. I spent almost 40 years working for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. I was responsible for the invertebrate paleontology collection; worked on several exhibits; wrote, cowrote, edited, and coedited a variety of technical and non-technical publications; and ran geologically oriented public outreach activities. I am currently the museum’s emeritus curator. The courses I took in geology at KSU were excellent, the field trips were inspiring, and the research opportunities amazing. I’m grateful for my experiences at Kent State which have greatly influenced just about everything I have done academically.


Nancy Ritter Zolidis (BA 1970)

Nancy ZolidisFifty-five years ago this month, I sat down in a large lecture hall to learn Physical Geology from Mr. Glen Frank.  It was the start of my career journey. I was inspired by Mr. Frank’s enthusiasm and passion and so continued with Historical Geology taught by Dr. Feldman and Dr. Miller (lab) which confirmed my decision. I was hooked on geology as a major.  In those days, a woman geologist was a rarity and in a few classes I was the only woman. I am grateful for the support that I received from the geology faculty, colleagues and family.

During those four years, positive experiences too many to name here, included opportunities to do research in Dr. Feldman’s lab, Dr. Heimlich’s memorable field trips, field camp (watching the 1969 moon landings from Sturgis, SD), lunchtime discussions to explore evidence of the latest theories such as Plate Tectonics, and, after the Cuyahoga River caught on fire in the summer of 1969, an impromptu discussion session on environmental issues hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Frank at their home.  All of these experiences were valuable stepping stones as I pursued a MS degree in Water Resources Management and a PhD degree in Land Resources at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Although my career got off to a slow start as I played the supporting role to my husband’s military career until 1977, I was able to enjoy more than twenty years as a consulting hydrogeologist and a college lecturer.

As a registered geologist and hydrologist in Wisconsin, my background in geology, hydrology, environmental studies, and computer modeling was used to work for mainly engineering consulting firms on a variety of interdisciplinary projects from 1985 to 2009.  Remedial site field and computer investigations, water supply analyses, wetland hydrology studies, landfill impact analyses and groundwater recharge mitigation were a few of the interdisciplinary projects performed.

My teaching experience from 1982 – 2017 included instructing physical geography labs (1982 – 84), teaching several geology courses at the University of Southern Maine (1988 – 89), co-directing the ‘Water Resources Management Graduate Practicum and Workshop’ at the UW – Madison (1990), teaching ‘How to Build an Eco-Economy’ at Upper Iowa University (2003 – 2009), and developing a non-credit course ‘The Geology of Janesville Parks’, celebrating its Geoheritage (2017).

I was active with Engineers Without Borders at the UW – Madison and in 2009 formed the chapter, EWB – Madison Area Professionals, to provide mentors for the students working on various EWB projects. In 2014, I traveled as a mentor to Tabuga, Ecuador with five students to research a water distribution system for the village.  Additionally, I served as chairpersons of the Janesville Plan Commission and the Janesville Boys and Girls Club Board.  Awards received as a senior at Kent included one from the Northern Ohio Geological Society and a ‘Senior Activity Award’ for contributions to the university. Others included a Certificate of Outstanding Community Service at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky (1977), the Meritorious Service Award from Green – Rock Audubon Society and the National Audubon Society (1994) and the Jeremiah Milbank Society Honorarium (2013 & 2014) for contributions to the Janesville Boys and Girls Club.


Jessica Maisano (BA 1994)

Jessica MaisanoI came for the fashion, but stayed for the geology. Rather than pursue my childhood dream of becoming a paleontologist, I chose fashion merchandising as my major because it was practical, and Kent has a great fashion school. I was also in the Honors College, and took an honors course with Dr. Don Palmer my junior year. Dr. Palmer was so kind and encouraging that I decided to follow my heart and changed my major to geology at the beginning of my senior year, and thus discovered what a wonderful geology department Kent has! Between Drs. Palmer, Rod Feldmann and Alison Smith, I enjoyed tremendous mentoring, employment (washing ostracods in Dr. Smith's lab), and the experience of completing an Honors thesis with Dr. Feldmann that resulted in a publication and my becoming KSU's first NCHC Portz Scholar. The holistic, unwavering support I received from the geology department and the Honors College paved the way for success in graduate school at Yale and employment at The University of a paleontologist! I run a high-resolution X-ray CT scanner to help researchers from around the world nondestructively 'look inside' everything from Apollo moon rocks to Stradivarius violins to Lucy. I learn something new every day, and my experiences at Kent made it possible.

2010-2019 Award Recipients


Martin Schmidt (BS 1975, Phd 1986)

Martin Schmidt has more than 39 years of experience working on environmental, hazardous waste, remediation/restoration and construction projects. Early in his career he was an Dr. Martin Schmidtexploration geologist working in the Louisiana Salt Dome Basin and as a geologist conducting environmental and geotechnical site investigations in Oklahoma. From 1985 through 2018, Dr. Schmidt was employed by Woodward Clyde Consultants/URS Corporation/AECOM and served as a Vice President and performed a variety of roles including Project Manager, Program Manager, Project Director and Client Account Manager on a diverse portfolio of environmental and remediation projects for many industrial clients both domestic and worldwide. 


Laura Sanders (Phd 1986)

Laura Sanders

Laura Sanders was the first woman to receive a PhD in Applied Geology at KSU. She has been a faculty member in the Department of Earth Science at Northeastern Illinois University since 1986, having served as Department Head from 1992-2005. She served as Book Editor for Ground Water from 2005-2012, and has been an Associate Editor of Environmental Geosciences since 2008. Her 1998 Prentice Hall book "A Manual of Field Hydrogeology" (1998) remains the seminal go-to book in the field of Applied Hydrogeology. In addition to her grantsmanship and publications in hydrogeology and supervision of 23 MS students, Dr. Sanders has written about and led workshops on Geoscience pedagogy and has been a strong advocate for enhancing diversity in the Geosciences and in STEM education nationally. In 2015 she received the Audrey L. Reynolds Distinguished Teaching Award at Northeastern Illinois University. 


John C. Spurney (B.S. 1979; M.S. 1984)

It was a real pleasure recognizing John Spurney as the 2017 Distinguished Alumni at our annual Spring Banquet. John earned his BS in Geology in 1979 and his MS in Geology in 1984 Photo of John Spurneyhaving worked on the Iron Peak intrusion in Iron County, Utah. John has used his knowledge and skills he obtained in this department to sustain a career in mineral resource management with an emphasis on exploration and development of precious and base metal deposits in metallogenic belts literally around the world.

After getting his MS John first worked as an exploration geologist for a variety of corporations in California, Nevada, and Utah. His first international stint was as an exploration Geologist with Pan-American Resources in Peru where he completed property examinations for gold, sulfur, and coal at numerous localities. In 1990 he served as Placer Dome’s Project Geologist in Alaska evaluating the Juneau Gold Belt along with numerous other Alaska precious and base metal occurrences. He was quickly promoted to Placer Dome’s international group and managed exploration activities in Central America and the Caribbean Basin. His exploration in Costa Rica led to the discovery of a new gold district in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. During this time he also spent nine months in Kazakhstan in part evaluating the giant Vasilkovska gold deposit.

John worked for 5 years as Exploration Manager for Brett Resources, developing a portfolio of primarily Au-Ag prospects in Central America. His reconnaissance in El Salvador resulted in the discovery of a new low sulfidation epithermal Au-Ag district. Since 2002 John has worked as a consulting geologist for various companies with assignments in Latin America and Asia including developing a portfolio of gold prospects in Mongolia and China. He served two years as VP of Exploration for Toronto-based Cu-Mo explorer Virgin Metals Inc and two years as Senior Corporate Geologist for Goldcorp, Inc. He continues consulting today with many assignments in Nicaragua focused on geologic mapping and drill target exploration of Tertiary age Au-Ag mineralization belts in hydrothermally altered volcanic and intrusive rocks.

John is proud to be a Fellow in the Society of Economic Geologists. He is a “boots on the ground” geologist who 38 years after taking fieldcamp continues to carry a rock hammer and wears a hand lens regularly since many of his assignments involve geologic mapping. Congratulations John!


Joseph Struckel (B.S. 1969)

Joseph StruckelWe were pleased to present Joseph Struckel this year's Distinguished Alumni Award at the annual Spring Banquet. Joe Struckel received his B.S. in Geology from Kent State University in 1969. After graduation, he served in the United States Army as a project leader and combat engineer, obtaining the rank of major. Joe worked as a project geologist for the Corps of Engineers and Lawrence Laboratory in Livermore, CA where he conducted research in the geology of explosive excavations and their impact on the environment. 

From 1983 - 2011, Joe founded and was president of Geosearch Logging Inc. headquartered in Edmond, CA. The company provided comprehensive geological and  hydrocarbon well logging services in 15 states across the country. During this time, Joe managed and operated 11 offices in 8 states. Beginning in 2012, Joe served as vice president of industry relations for Empirica LLC. His responsibilities included presentations, seminars and lectures on technological  advancements as well as identifying expansion and growth opportunities of Empirica surface logging.

His professional affiliations include the Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG); Society of Professional Well Log Analysts (SPWLA); Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE); SIPES (Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists) and American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG). Joe has kept close connections with faculty and students at KSU, interviewing and hiring Geology majors, giving presentations in Geology and to business students. He and his wife Karen have generously given to the Department, and both are currently serving on the College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board.

2015 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Gordon Nelson (B.S. 1967; M.S. 1970)

Gordon NelsonIt was a real pleasure recognizing Gordon Nelson (BS 1967; MS 1970) as this year’s Distinguished Alumni at our annual Spring Banquet. After defending his MS thesis in the Bighorns under the supervision of Dr. Heimlich, Gordon was immediately hired by Homestake Mining Corporation in Lead, South Dakota. He was promoted to Senior Geologist in 1975 and to Chief Mines Operation Geologist in 1979 being responsible for all aspects of exploration in the Homestake Mine. Between 1979 and 1989 Gordon conducted the first drilling program which confirmed significant ore reserves in the Homestake open cut area and completed a mine-out study predicting the end of the Homestake mine. In 1989 he transferred to the McLaughlin Mine, Lower Lake, CA where he was responsible for a wide variety of duties and programs from the implementation of a drilling and evaluation pro-gram on the Gamble Ranch to the last grade control on the last ton of ore from the McLaughlin Mine. He also worked at the Bulldog Mtn. Silver Mine, Colorado, and the Jardine Mine, Montana, and was employed by Cathedral Gold Corporation, Honduras. He was awarded early retirement by Homestake Mining Co. in 1996 and currently enjoys living in Arizona and especially attending the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, the largest, oldest and most prestigious gem and mineral show in the world.

2014 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

George D. Gardner (M.S. 1972)

George D. Gardner

We are very pleased this year to present our Distinguished Alumni Award to George D. Gardner (M.S. 1972). George did his M.S. thesis research on slope stability under the direction of Murray McComas. George took upon himself to learn more about engineering geology/geotechnical engineering and, on his own, took and passed the Professional Engineers exam. He is now both a Professional Geologist and a Professional Engineer, registered in several states.

  • From 1972-1983, he was employed by GAI Consultants in Pittsburgh, PA, one of the best geotechnical firms in Pennsylvania, as Senior Engineering Geologist, Geotechnical Engineer, and Project Manager. He worked on a large variety of engineering geology/hydrogeology-related projects, involving slope stability, foundation design, mine subsidence, etc.
  • From 1983-1988, he moved to NUS where he served as Project Manager, Program Manager, Office Manager, and Geotechnical Engineer. He managed a budget of $320 million covering superfund sites in the eastern U.S.
  • From 1988-2006 he worked for NUS in Boston, MA, as Program Manager, Office Manager, Vice President, Senior Vice President, and President. Here he continued to work on superfund and brownfield sites in more than 30 municipal and non-profit sites.
  • From 2006 to present, he is Deputy Director – Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup – Technical and Financial Services Division of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

As you can see from these credentials, George has risen, professionally, to high ranks. For the past 32 years, George has been leading the engineering geology class field trip, where our students benefit a great deal from his technical knowledge and practical experience. Not once during the past 32 years has he missed leading the trip. He goes to great lengths to prepare slides and handouts for the field trip. For the past 17 years, he has been traveling from Boston to Pittsburgh to lead this field trip, donating his own money and time. This is an unparalleled example of extreme dedication and commitment to one’s alma mater.

2013 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient

Donald C. Gifford (B.S. 1951)

Donald C. GiffordWe are very pleased this year to present our first Distinguished Alumni Award to Donald C. Gifford (B.S. 1951). Don has spent the majority of his career as a Petroleum Geologist working for a number of different companies from 1952 to 1967 (Union Producing, Texaco, American Petrofina, and Marr Co) and then as an Independent Geologist from 1967 to the present. He has been a member of AAPG, the Mississippi Geological Society, the Dallas Geological Society and past President of the Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists. Don Gifford writes “As I reflect on my years at Kent State University, I recall that the total student population was around 5000 with 18-20 Geology majors and one professor! A second professor was added in our third year (1950). The Geology courses were well thought out with plenty of Math, Physics, lab work and numerous field trips. Over the years I have found that there were many more courses offered by the Geology Department at Kent State University than offered at many so called high power schools. Also, the faculty gave students an abundance of personal attention. When I was hired as a Petroleum Geologist it became clear that I could compete with any of the other Geologists who graduated from Texas A&M, UT, and Oklahoma University. I have been very proud to be an Independent Petroleum Geologist. I have spent the last 60 years having Geologists as friends and associates both in industry and in Geology Societies. I value the many opportunities that my degree in Geology at Kent State University has afforded me and I thank the Department for this honor.”