Geosciences Professor Honored as University’s Top Educator | Trinity University

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Geosciences Professor Honored as University’s Top Educator

Thursday, July 2, 2020
Surpless surveying folds and faultlines with students

Z.T. Scott award given to Ben Surpless for remarkable research and mentorship

by Sydney Rhodes '23

Benjamin Surpless, Ph.D., associate professor of geosciences at Trinity University, has been named the 2020 recipient of the Dr. and Mrs. Z.T. Scott Faculty Fellowship in recognition of his outstanding abilities as a teacher and mentor.

The Z.T. Scott Fellowship includes a cash award to be used for professional development and research. Trinity University Trustee Richard M. Kleberg III established the Fellowship in 1984 in honor of his grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. Z.T. Scott. The award is the most prestigious faculty award the University bestows.

Surpless has worked at Trinity since 2005, receiving a full-time position in the Department of Geosciences in 2008. He received his bachelor’s degree from Carleton College and his doctorate from Stanford University.

Surpless conducts research in a variety of locations, including West Texas, Nevada, and Utah, using advanced technology to survey folds and faultlines in the Earth. The National Science Foundation has funded his research, allowing Surpless to provide data that helps advance our understanding of faultlines and how they grow and interact through time. Such data impacts things like groundwater, geothermal energy, gas, and oil. He has also been using drones to analyze and build on work from the past, building 3D models of faults and creating landscapes with exact physical dimensions, something that even 10 years ago was still impossible. 

collage of Surpless studying folds and faultlines in Utah with student researchers

Surpless bases his teaching methods on the differences in his students’ levels with respect for their diversity. He teaches with the desire not only to teach but also to learn.

“There are a lot of bright students at Trinity, and commonly they’ll ask a question that I won’t have even thought to ask myself... When you’re interacting with people that are young and excited about what they do, you don’t become as jaded as you might if you were just surrounded by old people doing research in your cubicle,” says Surpless. “Not only do students keep you inspired and engaged, but also commonly students contribute in a meaningful way to that path of discovery that every scientist goes down, and in many cases, the student has helped design their independent project in a way that I can later use to improve my own work.”

His work doesn’t go unnoticed around campus, either. "Dr. Surpless is a dedicated teacher with an active research program who truly exemplifies what it means to be a teacher-scholar,” says Deneese L. Jones, Ph.D., Trinity’s vice president for Academic Affairs. “As the coordinator and instructor for the Climate Changed First-Year Experience Program, Dr. Surpless makes meaningful contributions to Pathways while preparing students with the skills and interdisciplinary lenses to thrive at Trinity. What impresses me is that Dr. Surpless has truly made students his partners in research by engaging them in the lab, in the field, and later as co-presenters and co-authors. Dr. Surpless has set a new standard for excellence in mentoring undergraduate research."

“The idea is that any student at Trinity in the upper-level geosciences should be able to do their first independent research,” Surpless stresses. His goal is to guide students through the process of designing their own project by exposing them to the science and helping them decide what problems to pursue. “My hope is that any student I have in class, no matter what the level, engages in some way with the science we’re talking about...They take what they learn and think about how that might apply to a real-world problem.”