Alumni Achievement Award Recipients

Each year, the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Western Michigan University awards a member of our distinguished alumni with an Alumni Achievement Award to commemorate their unique contributions to the field of geosciences. Below is a list of awardees, accompanied by biographies that highlight their educational and professional histories, as well as their many accomplishments.


Dr. Robert LoPiccolo
Dr. LoPiccolo has worked in oil and gas exploration, research and management since 1974. As a petroleum geologist certified with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, his work has taken him around the globe from East Texas, to West Africa and Namibia, Indonesia, Oman, South and Central America, Alaska, and the Michigan Basin. He spent two decades as an exploration geologist identifying and drilling prospective oil and gas fields with companies such as Atlantic Richfield Company, Matrix Exploration, Inc., and Union Texas Petroleum, Inc. As vice president and later president of eSeis, Inc., he co-owned a patent on a novel technique for predicting pore pressure from seismic data. President of Peace River Group, LLC from 2007-14, Dr. LoPiccolo worked to develop oil and gas resources in the Michigan Basin. His recent consulting work focuses on developing resource potential in previously overlooked locations. Dr. LoPiccolo earned his master’s degree in geology from Western Michigan University in 1971, and his doctorate from Louisiana State University in 1977, with his thesis and dissertation research both focused in sedimentology and stratigraphy.


Dr. Thomas Robyn
Dr. Thomas Robyn graduated from the department in 1972 with a BA in Geology.  He earned his doctorate from the University of Oregon’s Center for Volcanology in 1977, based on his study of calc-alkaline volcanic rocks not associated with subduction in northeastern Oregon.  After graduation, he joined Anaconda Minerals Company where he explored for uranium deposits in the western United States, Africa, South America and Australia.  He was based in Oslo, Norway as Regional Exploration Manager, Scandinavia, when the Company was wiped out in 1986 by its parent company, Atlantic Richfield Company. He then became a consultant, designing and managing exploration projects on several continents for precious metals, base metals and ferro-alloys for a wide range of client companies, from start-up juniors to major mining companies.  He also held positions as Chief Operations Officer at a gold mine in Ecuador, President of junior exploration companies, and Board Member of an intermediate mining company.  Major areas of work include Greenland, Mexico, Norway, Ecuador, Peru, Australia and several other countries. Dr. Robyn’s career includes discovery of gold deposits in Quebec and base metal deposits in Mexico and Peru, as well as guiding a junior exploration company, as President and Executive Chairman, to become a mid-sized mining company and transitioning to Senior Vice President, Exploration, as the company grew beyond exploration to production.  Dr. Robyn retired at end-2015 and now resides with his wife, Mary, outside Denver, Colorado.


Dr. Roger Steininger
Dr. Roger Steininger was selected for the Alumni Achievement award by the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences because of his long history of mineral and business successes since his graduation from the Department in 1964 with a B.S. Roger attained his M.S. in Geology from Brigham Young University and his Ph.D. from Colorado State in Earth Resources in 1986.  After receipt of his M.S., Roger worked for national and international mineral exploration and development companies and then after receipt of his Ph.D., in 1987, he formed his own consulting company to work for many companies to support focused exploration in those geologic terrains having gold and other precious metals. Dr. Steininger’s distinguished career has noted his association with and personal discovery of numerous mineral discoveries including the 20+ million-ounce Pipeline gold deposit in Nevada. In 2009, Dr. Steininger formed NuLegacy Gold Corporation.  He recently retired after discovering the Iceburg gold deposit in Nevada.  He is also the recipient of the 2016 Honored Alumnus Award from the Warner College of Natural Resources, Colorado State University.  As noted by Dr. Steininger, these achievements started with the solid geological base supplied by Lloyd Schmaltz, and others, in the Western Michigan University Geological and Environmental Sciences Department.

Roger has been a supporter of the Department going back to the early 1980’s when he served on the initial Geology Department Advisory Council and has supported the department through the guidance and hiring of graduates and making presentations to the Department over the years.  Roger attended the Geology Department’s 50th anniversary function held at WMU in 2014 with his wife LuAnne where he reunited with Dr. Lloyd Schmaltz and Marilyn, along with fellow geology students in the department at the same time.  Dr. Steininger has been a frequent visitor to the department since that event.  Roger is now dedicating his time to writing and publishing a summary of the geologic setting for gold prospects and deposits in the Western Cordilleran from Mexico to Alaska.  Roger and his lovely wife, LuAnne reside in Reno, Nevada where they have a son and daughter, their spouses and four grandchildren.  


Dr. Ahmed Murad—Dean, College of Sciences at the United Emirates University in Al-Ain

Dr. Ahmed Murad came to WMU in 1997 and completed his M.S. in 2000 under the supervision of Dr. Daniel Cassidy. After that he decided to enroll in our Ph.D. program and worked with professor R V Krishnamurthy applying chemical and stable isotope techniques to address some serious questions related to ground water resources in the UAE. He graduated in near record time which earned him an award from his parent university for completing the doctoral program in “record time”. Upon return to Al-Ain, Ahmed took up a faculty position in the Department of Geology and his rise in career has been truly meteoric. He has served as the chair, assistant dean, associate dean and now is the permanent dean of the College. Ahmed has more than fifty publications in peer reviewed journals, several conference presentations and is a member of numerous societies. Ahmed is the recipient of many awards, notably the Rashid Award for Scientific Achievement (1997, 2001 and 2005), Departmental Graduate Research and Creative Scholar Award, Western Michigan University, Merit Award, UAE University (2006 and 2007) and Merit Award, UAE University. Murad is a leader in Emirates science serving the nation in many capacities. To name a few—National Correspondent of International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS) in the United Arab Emirates, Member of UAE International Hydrological Programme (IHP) National Committee, Official correspondent of UAE IHP National Committee with IHP intergovernmental Council. Head of Scientific Committee and Member of National Committee of Combat Desertification Member of the Advisory Board of the International Center for Integrated Water Resources Management (ICIWaRM), Virginia, USA, Member of the Arabic Alliance for Environmental Sciences, University of Qatar, Vice President, Arabian Peninsula Environmental Advisors Network (APEAN), Board Vice Chairman of the Geological Society of Emirates, Member of the Technical Committee of the UAE Program for Rain Enhancement Science, National Center of Meteorology & Seismology (NCMS)- Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Abu Dhabi – UAE, and Emirates Scientists Council.


Dane Alexander—Instructor, Western Michigan University, Department of Geosciences
Dane Alexander graduated from WMU with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in earth science and political science in 1973 and 1983. He was involved in education as a high school geology teacher in the Mattawan Consolidated Schools for 30 years before retiring. As a high school teacher, Dane understood the importance of relating to his students and making the subject relevant to the students’ lives. He often spent his weekends taking students on field trips to local rock quarries or other areas of geological significance throughout Michigan. At WMU, Alexander has led more than a hundred students and alumni on field trips to the U.S. Southwest and is especially well known for his epic Grand Canyon rafting trips down the Colorado River, which he led from 1993 to 2006. He still continues to teach the very popular course, geology of the national parks, at WMU as a part-time instructor and is an outspoken supporter of both the National Park system and earth science education. His youthful enthusiasm, personal photographs and humorous stories about his experiences visiting the U.S. National Parks consistently make it one of the most popular and rapidly filled courses taught at WMU. Dane’s charisma and passion for teaching earth science and geology has inspired a myriad of students to pursue degrees and careers in earth science and geology, as well as in education.


Dr. Brian Shaw—Geologist and Founding Dean, Oettinger School of Science and Technology Intelligence at the National Intelligence University
Dr. Shaw is the Founding Dean of the School of Science and Technology Intelligence at the National Intelligence University in Washington, DC. The School is the focus for S&T analytic education, research and external engagement across the intelligence and international national security communities. He joined the University in 2007 to organize the University’s S&T Intelligence program, and developed and established the S&T School in 2010. Dr. Shaw received his B.S. from WMU in 1973, M.S. from the University of Michigan in 1975 and a Ph.D. from Syracuse University in 1978. His principal areas of study were geology and mathematics. After serving briefly as a lecturer at the University College at Syracuse University, he joined the petroleum industry in a variety of research, development and exploration positions. He later formed and was the managing partner of an energy-consulting firm in Houston, Texas. In 1991 Dr. Shaw joined the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as a Senior Program Manager and Technical Group Manager in Richland, Washington and Washington, DC. Dr. Shaw also served as a Senior Advisor in the Field Intelligence Element where he managed several research and special programs. He served as a Senior Analyst and Senior Advisor in the Intelligence Community and was appointed as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Science and Technology to the National Intelligence Council. Dr. Shaw’s primary focus is on threats to national security arising from globalization of science and technology, evaluating disruptive consequences of adversarial technology adaptations, examining geostrategic resource issues, and identifying frameworks for effective collection, warning, and analysis.


Mike Wireman—Hydrogeologist and Consultant
Michael Wireman was a hydrogeologist employed by the U.S. EPA in Denver, Colorado, until 2014, where he served as a national groundwater expert. Wireman has a master's degree in hydrogeology from WMU, and he has performed post-master's work at the Colorado School of Mines. He has more than 30 years of experience in groundwater investigations in the western Rocky mountains. In his most recent position, he provided technical and scientific support to several EPA programs, other federal agencies, international programs, and state groundwater protection and management programs. Wireman managed research projects related to mine-site hydrology/geochemistry, groundwater sensitivity/vulnerability assessment, isotope hydrology, groundwater/surface water interaction and aquifer characterization. In addition, he has significant experience in the legal, scientific and programmatic aspects of groundwater resource management; extensive experience in groundwater-related work in the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Romania and Georgia and served as an adjunct professor at Metropolitan State College in Denver where he taught a class on contaminants. Wireman is a member of the Colorado Ground Water Association, NGWA and the Geological Society of America. He was also the chair of the International Association of Hydrogeologists-United States National Chapter.


James W. Farnsworth—Founding Partner, Chief Exploration Officer and Executive Vice President, Cobalt International Energy
Jim Farnsworth has more than 30 years of experience in the international oil and gas industry, the last 15 years of which he has held executive positions. Farnsworth is a founding partner in Cobalt International Energy, an independent, oil-focused exploration and production company. Since its founding, he has served as Cobalt’s Chief Exploration Officer, responsible for all exploration activities. Cobalt, which has an active drilling program in deep water Gulf of Mexico, Angola and Gabon, has pioneered the exploration of sub-salt and pre-salt reservoirs. Prior to founding Cobalt, Farnsworth was the Senior Vice President of World-Wide Exploration and Technology at BP, a global energy company. He has a B.S. in geology from Indiana University and an M.S. from Western Michigan University. Farnsworth serves on, and is the former chairman of, the advisory board/foundation of the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas-Austin. He has also served on the Advisory Board of Indiana University’s School of International Studies and on a number of non-profit boards.


Thomas Drean—Director and State Geologist, Wyoming Geological Survey, and Cabinet member, State of Wyoming
Thomas Drean graduated from WMU in 1974 with a B.S. in geology. In addition to his degree from Western, Drean also holds an MS in geochemistry from Pennsylvania State University and is a graduate of the Executive Development Program from the S.C. Johnson School of Management at Cornell University. Drean is currently serving on the Cabinet of the state of Wyoming and is the state geologist and director of the Wyoming State Geological Survey. He serves on the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Enhanced Oil Recovery Commission, the Wyoming Board of Professional Geologists, the Groundwater Commission and the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group for the state of Wyoming. Drean also holds the position of chairman of the board for the Laura Jane Musser Fund, which is a US-based philanthropic fund that reviews proposals and donates money to selected nonprofit organizations and initiatives. Prior to becoming the Wyoming state geologist and director of the Wyoming State Geologic Survey, Drean worked in the oil and gas industry for 31 years. Twenty-six of those years were with ConocoPhillips where he held a variety of technical and managerial positions around the world. Drean credits WMU with providing him with a great foundation in geology and instilling a lifelong interest in learning.


Dr. W. Richard Laton—Professor of Hydrogeology, University of California at Fullerton
Dr. Richard Laton is an expert in the field of hydrology/hydrogeology. He currently is an associate professor of hydrogeology in the Department of Geological Sciences at California State University, Fullerton. This is a continuation of a career that includes years of teaching, consulting, litigation support and management experience. Laton possesses extensive knowledge in the areas of hydrogeology, soil and water contamination, hydrology and surface water, wetlands, coastal monitoring/geomorphology, field sampling techniques and well hydraulics as well as environmental remote sensing/GIS. His classes at the university encompass topics including water quality, environmental sampling, groundwater modeling, well hydraulics, oceanography and basic geology. He enjoys introducing students to applied research and acts as faculty advisor to a large number of upper-level students. He also has acted as consultant for a variety of companies and agencies which need input on the above subjects, as well as natural hazard assessment and mapping.


Howard A. Nevins—President, Trey Exploration, Inc.
Howard A. Nevins received his B.S. in geology from Western Michigan University in 1978. He was a three-year letter winner in football at WMU, team captain and recipient of the President’s Award for Leadership his senior season. Work toward his MBA was undertaken at WMU, Morehead State University and University of Evansville. Nevins is a 30 year veteran of the oil and gas industry. He started his career with Ashland Petroleum Company (Marathon) initially working throughout the Appalachian Basin in coal mapping, reserve calculations and mine planning. He then was a founding partner in Lafitte Exploration, Inc., doing prospect generation, oil and gas development and engineering studies in the Illinois and Michigan Basins. In 1987, Nevins started Trey Exploration, Inc., an oil and gas exploration and production company. Trey Exploration continues to provide geological investigations and explorations for oil, gas and coal bed methane. In 1989, he co-founded Midwest Custom Chemicals, Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of internationally recognized proprietary chemicals used in demulsification, wastewater clarification and oil and gas production. Nevins currently is the North America business unit manager for Weatherford’s Engineered Chemistry division. In 1992, Nevins founded, and was president of American Enviro Services, Inc., a regional leader in environmental consulting, emergency response and used oil recycling. In 1997, AES was sold to U.S. Energy Systems, Inc., an international leader in green energy. Nevins was named chief operating officer for North American and Swedish operations and served on the board of directors. Nevins has remained active in numerous professional and community organizations. He has always been proud he chose to be a WMU Bronco.

Recipients prior to 2010