Alumnus leads geology efforts for State of Michigan
Posted on July 08, 2019
A trip to Glacier National Park after graduating high school deepened Adam Wygant's childhood interest in rocks, an interest that grew into a passion at Grand Valley after he learned in an introductory geology class about the natural history behind the natural beauty out West.
A trip to El Paso, Texas, decades later rekindled Wygant's passion. During a hike, his friend asked him about rocks and land formations they were seeing and geology, a conversation that helped spark a mid-career epiphany.
"I said to my wife, 'I used to be Mr. Geology, and I really want the back half of my career to be about geology,'" said Wygant, '93. "I had almost forgotten my love of rocks."
The professional time between those two trips had involved geology but also a fair amount of work in the biology realm, such as wetlands management and environmental permitting. The epiphany eventually led to his current position as the director of the oil, gas and minerals division for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.
In this job, he oversees programs for oil and gas operations, injection wells, gas storage, sand dune mining and hard rock metallic mining. And he serves as the state geologist, a largely statutory role that oversees mining functions, particularly mining taxation, and provides advisory support for the Michigan Geological Survey.
"It does, however, make me one of the state’s biggest geological cheerleaders in trying to educate about the importance of the role of geology and the need for greater geologic understanding as we face the future," Wygant said.
He also is a cheerleader for Grand Valley's geology program and the foundation it gave him to pursue a career with twists and turns.
Grand Valley has created a strong undergraduate geology program that effectively trains students on the principles of the discipline through faculty members who are leaders in their fields, he said.
"I felt like we had a superstar lineup of professors who had practical experience in each of their areas," Wygant said.
Field work was also a crucial component of his academic training. Faculty members led expeditions to what Wygant called the more subtle effects from glaciers in Michigan. They went to Indiana to explore historical geology, to Wisconsin for structural geology and to the Upper Peninsula for hard rock geology, the latter giving Wygant important insight for his current role with the state.
Along the way he and fellow geology students formed a tight camaraderie that enhanced his overall ties to Grand Valley, a place where his father, Allen, served as a police officer and then public safety director from 1969 to 2003.
Wygant said he continually draws on the expertise gleaned from Grand Valley as he supports projects that include efforts to update geologic maps using modern technology. His GVSU training also bolsters him as he considers some of the more pressing geologic issues of the day, such as protection of groundwater and surface water.
And he finds himself maintaining the sense of wonder about geology that he felt when he was young and that was reinforced during that pivotal hiking trip to Texas. To be a geologist is to always contemplate what the natural world is telling you about its past, he said.
"No matter what kind of landscape or setting you’re in, your mind is always working: 'Did molten rock do this? Did wind do this? Did glaciers do this? Did running water do this?'" Wygant said. "A lot of people think geology is just rocks but it’s really all inclusive of the Earth’s processes."