New director appointed to lead Michigan Geological Survey

Contact: Meghan Behymer

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University is delighted to announce the appointment of Sara Pearson, an alumna of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, as the incoming director of the Michigan Geological Survey (MGS), effective July 1, 2024

Sara Pearson, hiking on an Icelandic glacier with her husband, fellow geologist Adam Heft.

In her new position, Pearson will lead efforts to achieve MGS's mission to expand cutting-edge geological research, collect and preserve geological samples, furnish vital public data and analysis, and facilitate a deeper understanding of Michigan's geological landscape to empower informed decision-making and foster sustainable development of our natural resources. Since 1837, the initial activities of the MGS have provided data about Michigan’s mineral and rock resources, then water supplies, mineral and rock resources, energy resources and natural hazards, all to serve the public interest.

Pearson brings over two decades of comprehensive experience, culminating in her most recent role as the source water unit supervisor at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). Beginning her career in environmental consulting, Pearson ascended from a field geologist to a project manager, specializing in environmental remediation. Transitioning to the public sector with EGLE, Pearson led numerous statewide initiatives, with a strong focus on augmenting program efficiency and public access to critical environmental data. Her recent efforts have concentrated on advocating for best practices in contamination prevention, especially source water protection and sustainable water resource management. 

Notably, Pearson has been a member of the WMU Geosciences Advisory Board since 2012.

"We are delighted to welcome Sara Pearson as the new Director of the Michigan Geological Survey," says Dr. Heather Petcovic, chair of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences. "Her exceptional track record and unwavering commitment to high-quality science in the public interest positions her as the ideal candidate to lead the MGS into its next phase of success."

With the recent allocation of multiple grants totaling $14 million in funding for the MGS from the State of Michigan, Pearson's deep expertise and extensive track record in leadership is expected to propel MGS initiatives forward, continuing its tradition of excellence in geological research and education. The new funding will bolster core operations, establish an expanded Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education core repository facility, facilitate statewide geological mapping, aggregate research and exploration for critical minerals, and enhance student and professional training programs. 

Pearson expressed her enthusiasm for the opportunity, saying, “I have a vision that MGS will be the leading authority in Michigan for geological research and promoting sustainable and responsible use of the state’s geological and water resources to benefit our people and environment.”

Pearson succeeds John Yellich, who assumed the role of MGS director in 2013 and was instrumental in the successful acquisition of several grants that laid the groundwork for an ambitious vision of a fully operational and thriving geological survey. 

“Sara Pearson brings the additional benefit of a long history of understanding the need to identify and protect our natural resources and now Michigan has a functional Geological Survey to begin to meet those objectives,” says Yellich.  

Pearson joins MGS assistant director and Director of the Michigan Repository for Research and Education Dr. Autumn Haagsma, twelve full-time research and staff geologists with support staff, and more than 50 part-time staff and WMU student researchers at the MGS.

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