Scholle Takes Helm at Bureau, Oct. 29, 1999

SOCORRO, N.M., Oct. 29, 1999 -- Peter A. Scholle, who recently was appointed director of the New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources (NMBM&MR) and state geologist, made the move from Dallas to Socorro earlier this summer after accepting his new position, and, so far, he says, he hasn't missed Dallas "five cents worth."

Scholle had spent the last 14 years prior to becoming director of the Bureau of Mines occupying the Albritton Professor of Geology endowed chair at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.

"My short-term goal is to unpack 2,000 boxes," Scholle jokes.

"But on a more serious note, my long-term goal in my new position will be to maintain and build up what is already a first-rate organization," he adds.

The NMBM&MR is a research division of New Mexico Tech, a state-supported research university in Socorro. "The Bureau," as the organization is commonly known, is the official state agency responsible by law for original investigations of geology and mineral resources in New Mexico.

With a little over two months of directorship experience already under his belt, Scholle says he has spent most of his time at the Bureau "finding out what [he needs] to know."

Sixty-five Bureau staff members report directly to Scholle--each of them with different skills and specialties.

In addition, the NMBM&MR's primary focus on New Mexico geological and mineral resources gives Scholle a big geographic area to cover.

"It's going to take a big learning curve for me to figure out all the connections the Bureau maintains throughout New Mexico," he says. "Fortunately, these first few months are called 'the honeymoon period,' and so I've been getting a lot of help from a lot of people as I learn the ropes."

Scholle, a native New Yorker, earned his bachelor of science degree in geology at Yale University. He went on to graduate studies at the University of Munich, as well as the University of Texas at Austin, and eventually completed his work toward his master's and doctorate degrees at Princeton University.

After receiving his Ph.D., and prior to his stint at SMU, he worked as a research geologist with an independent oil company, and later also served for several years as a research geologist with the U. S. Geological Survey, eventually becoming branch chief of the oil and gas resources division of that agency's Denver office.

In addition, Scholle has served as a consulting geologist to various other national and international oil companies and also as Gulf Oil/Chevron Oil Research's chief scientist in carbonate studies before embarking on his academic career.

Most of Scholle's consulting and research work has centered on carbonate sedimentology, particularly chalks and limestones and their relation to petroleum exploration.

"You could say most of the work I've done falls on the applied side of research," he says.

Scholle says he has been "duly impressed" by both the Bureau and the university, before and since arriving at New Mexico Tech.

"By and large, the Bureau and Tech are great collaborators, and this partnership only strengthens the quality of work done on both sides," he says. "They're really good institutions; but, of course, there's nothing that can't be made better."

The new director of what is essentially New Mexico's equivalent of a state geological survey foresees his organization growing in several critical areas.

"I'd like to expand our research efforts in hydrology," Scholle says, "especially since water resources are so critical and are the single most limiting factor in the development of New Mexico.

"I would also like to see the Bureau do more work on issues related to assessing geologic hazards around the state," he adds, "issues commonly associated with earthquakes, landslides, sinkholes, and expanding soils, issues which also directly affect the economic development of New Mexico."

Scholle also says he will work to enhance the NMBM&MR's current outreach efforts which target the state's K-12 students, as well as interested adults.

"The Internet is a great way to do that," he explains. "We've already found that maintaining our Internet site (http://geoinfo.nmt.edu) is a great way to disseminate information without having to spend vast amounts of money. Kids today are remarkably computer literate, and so are their teachers, as well as many of their parents."

Scholle says he is not about to make any abrupt decisions on his own concerning the Bureau's future, but is more in favor of perhaps employing a strategic planning group or a panel of Bureau
staff members to "brainstorm" those issues which the agency will face in the new millennium.

"Someone ultimately has to make the final decisions, though" the Bureau director points out, "and I'm not going to be abdicating that responsibility."

Scholle says his background has made him a firm believer in delegating less important matters and that he will continue to do so in his new position.

"I don't intend to do all the work of the Bureau," he insists. "Guidance, when needed, and a sense of direction are the only things that are going to emanate from my office."

Scholle asserts that he didn't enter his directorship with a preconceived notion that continuity should be maintained just for continuity's sake.

Change for the better can be a good thing, he says.

"The very name, New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, for instance, is long and drawn out and doesn't really express what the Bureau actually does, which is primarily mapping our state's geologic resources and which has little to do with mines or mineral resources," Scholle observes. "We'd probably be better off adopting a new name which better reflects what we do."

All in all, Scholle says he is "ecstatic to be here," a sentiment, he says, which is shared by his wife, Dana Ullmer-Scholle, who is now an adjunct faculty member in Tech's Earth and environmental sciences department.

"There is a sense of spirit and comraderie and a lack of pompousness here that you just can't find in very many places today," Scholle says. "And, it's great to be a part of that!"