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Professor Named Outstanding Educator

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Diane Smith to be honored by the Association of Women Geoscientists

By Susie P. Gonzalez

 SAN ANTONIO -  Diane Smith, professor of geosciences at Trinity University, will receive the Outstanding Educator Award on Oct. 28 from the Association of Women Geoscientists

Hailed by colleagues as "a great mentor" who ably "balances innovation and rigor," Smith has been at Trinity for nearly 30 years. She chaired the geosciences department from 1998 to 2004 and again from 2012 to the present and served as associate vice president for Academic Affairs overseeing budgets and research from 2004 to 2011.

"This award is an affirmation of my career," said Smith, who began college as a 17-year-old interested in science but not focused on the field geosciences until she was a sophomore at Carleton College. Once enthralled by the discipline, she went on to earn a master's and doctorate from Rice University and was eager to teach, noting that she never had a female geosciences professor during her education.

At Trinity, Smith has earned a reputation for helping students find their passion. "She clearly paints a picture of how the (geosciences) discipline is vital to so many of the issues that impact society," one former student wrote in a letter nominating her for the award.

Another former student said Smith not only assisted in conducting research, but also taught the student "how to think like a geochemist and interpret the data" in order to develop a well-substantiated hypothesis.

Faculty members also spoke of Smith's ability to simultaneously nurture and challenge. "For as long as I have known Diane, she has epitomized what it means to be a truly effective teacher, a caring student adviser, a meticulous research mentor, a concerned community organizer, an  efficient and respected university administrator, and a dedicated mother (of two,)" a colleague wrote.

Smith's specific area is igneous petrology and geochemistry, the study of the origin and solidification of magma and the resulting igneous rocks. She is particularly interested in the evolution of magma chambers through time, which involves looking at the products erupted by volcanoes.   She also worked on plutonic rock bodies, representing magmas that completely solidified at depth, such as Enchanted Rock near Fredericksburg.   

To assist her research, Smith has secured external grants from the National Science Foundation and the Keck Geology Consortium.  She also has served on committees and panels of those groups.

Enrollment is rising in Geosciences classes, she said, in part because of the growing awareness of how the field can solve problems. The field touches upon Earth science, climate change, energy, water, and a range of environmental issues that today's college students "want to fix," she said.

Susie P. Gonzalez is director of public and media relations at Trinity University and can be reached at susie.gonzalez [at]