Written by Roy Schlische with contributions from Michael Durcanin and Alissa Henza
On July 1, 2020, after 20 years at Rutgers, Dr. Martha Oliver Withjack made the transition from tenured professor to professor emerita. We wish Martha all the best during this next phase of her life. Below are some highlights of her professional career. After graduating from Middlesex High School, Martha majored in mathematics at Rutgers’ Douglass College. She also studied geology, but the major was not open to the women of Douglass. She next moved to Providence, Rl, earning a Ph.D. from Brown University. Her first job after graduate school was with Cities Service Company in Tulsa, OK, where she was the first woman geologist hired in the research laboratory. Subsequently, she worked for ARCO Oil & Gas Company in Plano, TX, and Mobil Technology Corporation in Dallas, TX, becoming an expert in the fields of extensional and salt tectonics and the interpretation of seismic-reflection data. When Exxon and Mobil announced their merger in 1999, Martha chose to return to her alma mater to train the next generation of geoscientists. At Cities Service Company, Martha began her research on interpretation of seismic-reflection data and analog modeling of geologic structures. She later built modeling laboratories at ARCO and Mobil. At Rutgers, she designed and built state-of-the-art facilities for seismic-interpretation and analog modeling. Many undergraduate and graduate students have benefited from using these facilities to conduct their research projects. Three of Martha’s top-five-cited papers deal with experimental modeling; the others involve fault zones and the rift-to-drift transition on the passive margin of eastern North America. A recent paper showing the complicated fault patterns associated with multiphase extension was featured on the cover of AAPG Bulletin during its 100th anniversary. The results of Martha’s research have made their way into both industry and academic training courses, highlighting the long-standing relevance of her work. Martha won the AAPG J.C. “Cam” Sproule Memorial award in 1986 given to recognize young authors; she received the George C. Matson award in 2000 for best presentation at the 1999 AAPG National Convention. Over her 20-year career at Rutgers, Martha taught a variety of courses, of which I highlight four. In Structural Geology and Advanced Tectonics, she taught practical applications of structural geology by incorporating examples from analog models, synthetic seismic profiles, and actual 2D and 3D seismic-reflection data from around the world. The Field Geology course involved several field sites along the shores of the Bay of Fundy; she had visited some of these sites since the 1980s as part of field seminars used in industry training.
The exploration game was the capstone project of the Oil and Gold class. It required students to solve a 3D, multi-variable problem. Students would spend “money” to buy blocks and to drill to a specified depth. Students would earn money for each play identified; some blocks had as many as three plays, but, of course, most blocks had none. Martha developed a more challenging version for the Structural Geology class, where it proved equally popular. Wrote one student in the course evaluation: “The interactive way in which the course was taught made it easy for us to grasp the large amount of information presented to us. It also made lectures fun.” Martha’s service included the following:
1) associate editor for AAPG Bulletin and GSA Bulletin;
2) AAPG Distinguished Lecturer;
3) chair of GSA’s Structural Geology and Tectonics division;
4) co-presenter for AAPG and GSA short courses on experimental modeling and seismic expression
of structural styles;
5) department liaison for the ESTEEMS Project (Establishing Excellence in Education and Mathematics and Science), a Rutgers/K-12 partnership,
6) 14-year membership on the graduate admissions committee; and
7) co-leader of multiple field trips, the most recent being a Newark basin trip for the Field Conference of Pennsylvania Geologists.
The training of the next generation of geologists involves research, teaching, and service. Martha trained 10 undergraduate and 25 graduate students. She was their technical advisor, editor, and professional mentor. For many students who were far from home, especially those from Indonesia, Costa Rica, and Colombia, she also looked after their well-being by organizing weekend hikes and pot-luck dinners. Additional examples of her selflessness were her continued financial support of her students throughout the school year via consulting/research projects with multiple energy companies. Funds were used to support the Structure Lab and students during the summer months. Of all the accomplishments of a distinguished career, Martha is most proud of her role as a mentor who encouraged and challenged her students.