Skip to main content
Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI alumnus establishes endowment to fund geology field trips

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

KINGSTON, R.I. -- September 23, 2005 -- To John Sullivan, there’s nothing better than a school field trip to get you excited about your coursework. As a geology student at the University of Rhode Island in the early 1980s, he joined his classmates and professors on trips to upstate New York to learn about mountain building and continental collisions, to western Massachusetts to study Triassic fossils, and to North Carolina and Nova Scotia to learn about coastal geology.

“Going out and seeing geology in the field helped us to put into practice what we were being taught,” said the Attleboro, Mass. native who now lives in Davie, Fla. “In addition to making us better geologists, the trips helped develop close ties between the department’s students and faculty. We’re all still best friends 20 years later. The geology department was the coolest place on campus.”

Sullivan, a manager of oil and gas investments, and one of his companies recently donated $25,000 to the Department of Geosciences to fund field trips or other related activities.

“It’s clear much of my success and that of my classmates comes not from what we did as individuals, but from what we did together,” Sullivan said. “Our professors always had high expectations and demanded quality work that could only be achieved by collaborating socially and academically. We were on tight schedules and it was an absolute necessity to communicate effectively and share data so that everyone did the assignments right. It was an environment where the advanced students helped those who were a little further behind and we all came out on the same page.”

Sullivan was drawn to URI because of its strong reputation in the marine sciences. His early interest in marine biology evolved into a passion for marine geology after learning about marine fossils and spending time at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography.

“It’s been 20 years since my friends and I left URI, and it’s amazing to see how well everybody has done,” he said. “Many are working in the environmental field, including one who helps Poland Spring find new water sources, another who helped select the Mars rover landing sites, and others who are at DEM or teaching. Tim Ling, who passed away last year, became president of Unocal and is a testament to the fact that URI educated us well.

“We were having so much fun, though, that we didn’t even know we were getting such a great education,” Sullivan said.

Dan Murray, a URI professor of geology and one of Sullivan’s teachers, remembers Sullivan as a very curious student who worked hard at understanding geology and who still sends him long letters with rock samples to identify. “John basically marches to his own drummer. What I like about him is that he’s always looking and thinking about what’s going on around him.”

“We are so glad that John has maintained such a strong connection to URI after all these years, and we’re deeply appreciative of his generous donation to help future students gain as much from their geology education as John did,” said Sarah Lepkowski, URI senior development officer for the College of the Environment and Life Sciences.