EEPS Virtual Graduation Ceremony

Almost 100 virtual attendees joined in celebrating EEPS graduates last Friday, May 15.  EEPS faculty and staff presented a program that honored seven Bachelor of Science, eight Professional masters in Subsurface Geoscience, two Master of Science graduate degrees and 11 Doctor of Philosophy graduates.  Following the presentation of the degrees, awards garnered by students, faculty and staff were highlighted.

EEPS professor and department chair, Cin-Ty Lee, led the ceremony along with undergraduate advisor Julia Morgan, Colin Zelt, director of the Professional Subsurface Geoscience Masters (PSM), and Rajdeep Dasgupta, who is the director of graduate studies.  Cin-Ty Lee’s introduction (transcribed below) included thanks to long-time external supporters and alumni of the department, including organizations that support many of our extraordinary facilities, and especially to our alumni who provide their time and expertise to enhance EEPS academic programs and funding for student and postdoctoral endowments.

Bachelor’s degree recipients were presented by Julia Morgan and the PSM graduates by Colin Zelt.  Rajdeep Dasgupta presented all of the EEPS graduate student degree recipients.  The student awards were presented by the entire panel.

You can view the presentation in its entirety HERE.

Individual graduation powerpoint slides of the presentation can viewed HERE.

EEPS faculty attending the graduation and awards ceremony (left to right, top row to bottom row): Cin-Ty Lee, Rajdeep Dasgupta, Colin Zelt, Melodie French, Julia Morgan, Helge Gonnermann, Kirsten Siebach, Laurence Yeung, Sylvia Dee, Mark Torres, Fenglin Niu, Alan Levander, Adrian Lenardic, Jonathan Ajo-Franklin, Caroline Masiello, Jeffrey Nittrouer

Cin-Ty Lee’s Introductory remarks:

Welcome everyone to the 2020 Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences Graduation Ceremony.  I want to thank all of you for attending what is the most important event of the year, the celebration of the accomplishments of our students and seeing them off to a new chapter in their lives. 

This is a very unusual time with the COVID pandemic. Not only have you, the students, succeeded in one of the great chapters of your lives, you finished during one of the most trying times in a generation.  We know you were all faced with huge challenges. The challenge of having to finish your degrees remotely, and the challenge of not being able to be with your friends or all your loved ones when you might need them the most. These are difficult times and many challenges yet lie ahead, but having seen what you have accomplished, how resilient you have been, I am hopeful that we will come out of all this stronger.  We are all in this together.

It is truly unfortunate that we are not able to celebrate your graduation as we would normally do, seeing all your faces, exchanging hugs and sending you out into the world. Like everywhere else in the world, graduation this year is being done remotely. The staff and the faculty have come together to try to put on the best remote graduation possible, and I am deeply indebted to all their efforts. There is of course no replacement for the real thing, but perhaps the silver lining in all of this, if there is one, is that we all begin to see that the relationships we have established matter so much more and cannot be taken for granted. 

In a show of solidarity, all the faculty are standing before you, albeit remotely through the zoom gallery. We are standing in full support behind you, the students, to show that we recognize all that you’ve accomplished, all that you’ve overcome and most importantly, that we are behind you as you move forward in your lives.  We probably took it for granted before, but the faculty, students, staff, alumni, friends of the department, are all united.

For the parents in attendance, I want to say a couple things. Whatever their degree, the students here have not only acquired immense knowledge, but in a small department like ours with small class sizes, they have also learned how to think critically about complex problems.  They have had the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom as well, from the many faculty in our department. Our faculty are in turn inspired by the questions students ask, and thus we learn too.

For the parents, who might not all be familiar with what an Earth Science major is, I can best summarize it as the field in which we study how Earth and all its components interact. From its interior to the soils at the surface, the hydrosphere, and the atmosphere that gives us life. This includes the interactions of the Earth’s surface with its deep interior that lead to volcanoes, earthquakes and other natural hazards. We also study how our climate system evolves and how other planets have evolved with time. In a sense, what our students learn is how to work in complex, highly interconnected systems, when data is often incomplete and systems are rapidly evolving. We are trained to think in deep time where we reconstruct fragmentary data to tell the story of the Earth, like these students pictured here in New Mexico for ESCI 334. And perhaps, these studies of our history shed light on the future of our planet.

EEPS Bachelor of Science graduates (starting top left to lower right) Jared Nirenberg, Naod Araya, Jackson Stiles, Kyle Bartsch

I think you would agree that society right now is at a most uncertain moment in our history with COVID-19, climate change, the energy crisis and the economy. Our Earth scientists, even if they do not go on to be geologists, may prove essential to helping our society make it through these crises.

Before we move on to the actual graduation ceremony, I wanted to also take this time to thank some of the people critical to our efforts.

This is a picture of undergraduates with professors Juli Morgan and Melodie French on a field trip to Hawaii back in early February. This field trip was sponsored by a generous gift from Judy and Michael Johnson, who wanted to encourage students to be entrepreneurs and pursue their own ideas. The field trip was initiated and designed by the undergraduates themselves. And although Juli and Melodie were there, their main role was to be chaperones. The students worked together to teach themselves about this dynamic geological wonder. This is a great example of why I am hopeful that the future is still bright for all of you graduating seniors. Of course, little did we know that this would be the very last physical field trip of the season. Little did we know that our lives would change so radically right after the field trip.

This past year, we upgraded our Visualization laboratory with generous support from alumni Kevin and Kathy Biddle. We did not know at the time that COVID-19 was coming, but now we look prescient because this facility rapidly became the place where we went for virtual field trips.  With Kirsten Siebach at the helm of this facility, we are taking students even to Mars, but we hope to expand its use to taking our students around the world this fall semester.

We also continued our joint activities with industry, this year focusing on unconventional hydrocarbon sources. These activities were initiated through a generous endowment from Ed Biegert, along with numerous supporters, most recently through a gift from Jim Tucker. Perhaps a workshop on unconventionals now seems foolish given the collapse of oil at the moment. However, at Rice, we never approach things traditionally. We focused mostly on the general concepts of characterizing the subsurface. All of this is transferrable to studying energy storage, nuclear waste disposal, carbon capture, geothermal energy.

I also want to thank the Pan family, who just a couple years ago established a million dollar endowment to encourage international, but not limited to, graduate students and post-docs to study at Rice. We established the Pan Family Postdoctoral Fellowship to attract the best talent from all over the world. Right now, it is difficult for international students to come to the US, but it is also difficult for international students here already, as they cannot go back to see their families. The Pan Fellowship is timely and unique in our country for the vision of Poh Hsi Pan.

EEPS Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy graduates (starting top left to bottom right): Sriparna Saha, Trevor Cole, Chenliang Wu, Seyedsahand Hajimirza, Jia Shi, Andrew Moodie, Loredana Suciu, Johnny Seales, Alana Semple, Tian Dong, Harsh Vora

Finally, our department continues to move forward, even during this time of the pandemic. We continue to think about how Earth Science can help society make a better planet.  We have been so fortunate to have Mary Anne and Bill Dingus supporting our efforts with the Human Impacts Endowment. Our goal is to generate the best and most societally and environmentally responsible students in the world.


As we conclude our ceremony, we the faculty and staff of EEPS wish you all the best. We want you to know that you are always part of the Rice EEPS family. We will always be behind you. These are uncertain times, but through the resilience that you have all shown, I know you will find a way to successfully navigate this new world.  Do not ever hesitate to ask for help. We are in this together.  Congratulations to the class of 2020.