A $600,000 contribution by Pioneer Natural Resources Company will be used to enhance teaching and learning in Northern Arizona University’s geology program.

The gift will be disbursed over the next three years and will primarily support research and education in stratigraphy, or rock layers and layering, a branch of geology that is significant to natural resource exploration and production companies like Pioneer.

“Geologists need strong technical and field expertise, and this partnership with Pioneer Natural Resources will enhance our ability to provide our students with a good mix of field-based experiences and strong technical training in stratigraphy and structure,” explained Mary Reid, professor and chair of the geology program in NAU’s School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability.

Part of the funding will go toward a new Pioneer Natural Resources research professor, who will train students in using geophysical techniques to learn about the characteristics of rocks buried beneath Earth’s surface.

“These techniques can be used to make predictions about the extraction and management of oil, gas, water, ores and other resources,” Reid said. “Such training will benefit students in all areas of applied geology—from energy and water exploration and management, to environmental consulting and remediation.”

The new research professor also will collaborate with other faculty and their graduate students on research that incorporates geophysical techniques for investigating Earth’s subsurface, providing opportunities for more targeted geophysical training.

Other parts of the gift will be used to enrich student learning experiences through embedding GIS training throughout the curriculum and by providing support for student field trips, short courses and invited speakers.

David Sanders, corporate geoscience manager at Pioneer, said the company employs numerous NAU alums and actively recruits geology interns from the university.

“We find a refreshing passion for geology amongst the NAU professors which they instill in their students,” Sanders said. “We wanted to build on the already strong NAU geology program by funding a professorship focused around stratigraphy, and we trust the additional funds will meet student and department needs.”

Sanders said the gift stems from one of Pioneer’s core values to support selected universities, especially during times of budget cutbacks.