Oil On His Shoes: Murray Hitzman

Title: Oil On His Shoes: Murray Hitzman: New Chairman of the Geology and Geological Engineering Department, Colorado School of Mines

Author: Donna Anderson

Publication: The Outcrop, June 2002, p. 1, 6-7

In January 2002, Dr. Murray Hitzman became Head of the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering (GE) at Colorado School of Mines (CSM), formally taking the reins of a department with 30 faculty and staff, 60 undergraduate and 120 graduate students. Because many RMAG members have ties with CSM, the Outcrop editors decided to find out what Murray has in mind for the Department.

A little background is in order. Murray holds A.B. degrees in anthropology and geology from Dartmouth College, an M.S. in geology from the University of Washington, and a Ph.D. in geology from Stanford University. With industry experience spanning nearly 18 years with Anaconda Company, Bear Creek Minerals and Chevron Minerals, he also has several years experience in national public policy, having served on the staffs of Senator Joseph Lieberman and of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He joined CSM in 1996 as the Charles Franklin Fogarty Professor of Economic Geology and continues to hold that appointment.

Murray grew up an oil brat. He frequently played in the backyard of his grandfather, Murray Neumann, who worked for Carter Oil in Tulsa, OK, and met many of the legends of the oil business, such as Wallace Pratt. And if that didn’t rub off, he grew up in nearby Bartlesville while his father was a research microbiologist for Phillips Petroleum. As a budding geology student at Dartmouth, his first summer job was working for Phillips doing seismic processing and interpretation. Alas, he spent most of his time that summer at a keypunch machine (remember punch cards?), correcting errors and resubmitting batch jobs to mainframes that occupied entire buildings, just to get data ready to interpret. The next summer, when he was offered a job with Anaconda doing fieldwork in Nevada, his vision of geology was complete: he was hooked on ore deposits. His research loves are sedimentary-hosted ore deposits and analyzing sedimentary basins as “ore systems”. While at Chevron Minerals, he worked with Mitch Harris as one of several [the number changed through time] carbonate specialists at Chevron, frequently teaching carbonate geology short courses to petroleum geoscientists. As he says, “While in the minerals end of the business, I was always working with petroleum geoscience and technology, utilizing those ideas and techniques in my search for ore deposits.” The oil never left his shoes.

What does Murray see as the future of the GE Department at CSM? Murray wants to build on and increase the strength of the GE Department as one of the best applied petroleum geoscience departments in the world. To help accomplish that vision, the Department is in the final stages of a search for a tenure-track professor in petroleum geology with a structural geology emphasis. Another initiative is to continue building a group of Research Faculty in petroleum geoscience. The resulting group will strengthen the petroleum program at graduate and undergraduate levels and enable the Department to be more involved in the professional petroleum community. Murray and his staff are also in the process of creating a business plan for the department, which will include a 5-year future view. A real key to the future of the Department, but difficult to predict, is large endowments like that recently received by the University of Texas at Austin. In fact, the current number of scholarships/grants for supporting tuition, a stipend, and thesis research limits the number of graduate applicants. The Department has more good graduate applicants than it can fund.

Hitzman is also highly dedicated to undergraduate education. Faced with declining undergraduate enrollment in the last several years, Murray and past Chairman Roger Slatt worked hard to change that trend. Initiatives to increase GE enrollment have included recapturing GE 101 into the GE department and revising the curriculum to reflect more geoscience emphasis and link the many subjects that undergrads study. His vision is to produce graduates who think like scientists and analyze like engineers. A goal connected with this vision is to prepare students for inevitable changes in career paths by stressing more integrative, analytical and communication skills. Murray’s vision is aimed at increasing the undergrad GE enrollment, which in turn will cascade into more graduates seeking careers in the petroleum industry.

A campus-wide program that is in progress is the re-formation of the Energy Institute at CSM, as part of a CSM Energy Initiative supported by the Board of Trustees. As point person, Murray canvassed all departments at CSM and found while that energy research was common to all, many were unaware of what others were doing. The Energy Institute will focus on petroleum, fuel cells, nuclear, combustion, transportation, and renewable energy. Geoscience will play an integral part in the Institute, creating opportunities for integrated studies among faculty and students. With an initial grant of $250,000 from the University of Abu Dhabi, a matching grant of $250,000 is in the works, for total startup funding of $500,000.

To the RMAG membership, Murray asks, “What do RMAG members want from the GE Department in terms of education?” With the establishment of CSM as an Exemplary Institution by the Colorado State Legislature, CSM now has greater flexibility in creating degree programs. The first new degree offered will be a professional Masters in Petroleum Geoscience (non-thesis), which initially will be based on existing course offerings, but could evolve into new courses, depending on the demand of program participants. A huge potential exists to combine RMAG continuing education with the flexibility that CSM has to create short courses, new semester-long courses, and field courses. It’s a matter of identifying needs and tapping people to teach from a very talented pool of petroleum geoscientists residing in the Colorado Front Range.

Murray Hitzman is a man of vision and abundant energy, with a lot of geoscience and people-related experience. He again finds himself with oil on his shoes, looking forward to the exciting years ahead as his vision becomes reality. Murray welcomes any ideas, and visits, from the RMAG membership on how to strengthen the ties between RMAG and CSM: his email is mhitzman@mines.edu.