|The University of New Mexico|
A Publication of
of New Mexico
By Ellen K. Ashcraft
The late oil entrepreneur Caswell Silver always said that he chose a master's degree program in geology rather than in physics, which he also loved, because he liked to gamble. Indeed, he made his career in petroleum geology. "And that's gambling in a big way," says his daughter Sue Harivandi. Risky or not, the choice was lucrative for Silver-and beneficial to the University of New Mexico as well.
As a young man, Silver left his northwestern Connecticut home, and for health reasons, ventured west. He liked Albuquerque and enrolled at UNM in the late 1930s, receiving a bachelor of science degree in 1940. When the U.S. entered World War II, Silver served four years as a Naval intelligence officer. After his discharge, he pursued his 1946 master of science degree at UNM while geologically mapping a mining district in Colorado's San Juan Mountains for the U.S. Geological Survey. The resulting publications were the first to reveal the potential of the second largest U.S. gas field.
Perhaps Silver took chances in his personal life as well. Consider the inherent risks of getting a preacher out of bed in the middle of the night to perform a wedding. That's what happened when he married Elizabeth Bauserman in 1945, eloping from Albuquerque to Bernalillo. Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, Mrs. Silver holds a teaching certificate from the University of Iowa along with a degree in journalism. She taught eighth grade English for a year in Des Moines before working for the war effort in Washington, D.C. She then moved to New Mexico, becoming secretary to the director of UNM's Latin American Institute.
In 1947, Silver helped organize the New Mexico Geological Society, and served as its president 1957-58. He founded Sundance Oil, and in 1959, moved to Denver to better associate with larger companies and expand throughout the Rocky Mountains. In 1964, Silver was among the first to use computers in oil sand analysis. In 1970, his company began exploring western Canada. Silver penned many papers that received worldwide critical attention and more than 60 guide books. UNM awarded him an honorary doctor of science degree in 1981. Silver was "a brilliant spirit in the geological community in New Mexico and Colorado," says his brother, Dr. Leon T. Silver, a 1948 UNM geology alumnus and professor of geology at CalTech, who serves on the UNM Foundation Board.
favorite UNM geology professor and friend, Vincent C. Kelley, suggested
that the Silvers support the University. Silver himself understood the
financial pressures students face. He worked his way through college by
selling ads for the student newspaper-no small task during the Great Depression.
Appropriately, the Silvers formed the Caswell Silver Foundation (CSF),
eliminating some financial risk for today's students.
Initially created in 1980 with Sundance Oil stock, the Caswell Silver Foundation now has investments of well over $2 million, and provides the UNM department of earth and planetary sciences (formerly geology) more than $100,000 in annual support. Each year, the CSF underwrites one or two internationally known scientists for the Caswell Silver Distinguished Lecture Series. Since 1999, the foundation has enabled about 10 students annually to make poster presentations at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. However, the foundation's largest impact is on the department's graduate education and research.
The Vincent C. Kelley and Leon T. Silver Graduate Fellowships attract top students with a monthly $1,400 stipend and up to $3,000 per year for travel and research expenses, plus tuition and university fees. Master's degree students receive these awards for two years and doctoral candidates for three years, as long as they maintain excellent academic standing and show significant research progress. At any given time, the department may have from one to three fellows. Since 1981, the fellowships have benefited 17 students and have raised the standards in the department. "By advertising this nationally, by bringing in these kinds of students in competition with other top geology departments, such as Penn State, Stanford, UCLA, we raise the caliber of our overall graduate program," says Chair of Earth and Planetary Sciences Dr. Les McFadden. CSF also provides travel costs for the top several fellowship applicants. "Not only do we get the top student, but often the other two or three students who visit are so impressed with our programs that they'll come here anyway," comments McFadden.
Another major contribution from the foundation is support for the Caswell Silver Research Professorship, awarded for up to two years to earth scientists of distinguished accomplishment and international reputation from outside UNM. The Silver Professor carries out a vigorous research program while in residence at UNM, interacting with the department's faculty and students and providing one or more seminars in an advanced topic during each academic year.
"Often we are able to bring in people in fields that are not strongly represented in the department," notes McFadden. "This means we can offer classes in areas we would not otherwise be able to offer, and it allows for new research avenues via interdisciplinary collaborations. Since the program's inception over 20 years ago, two of the research professors are now in the department as tenure track faculty. They have added immeasurably to the program."
One is Dr. Mousumi Roy, a geodynamicist interested in earthquake generation and other crustal movements. She completed her Silver Research Professorship in August 2000. "Under normal circumstances, it would be really hard for us to be competitive with other universities. Mousumi literally had four or five other offers," recounts McFadden. "But because of the strong collaboration she had here, the respect she had for us, and the love she developed for New Mexico, she saw staying here as a potentially good thing. We were able to develop a package for her, with support from the Caswell Silver Foundation."
The Silvers certainly embraced New Mexico, too, and that translated into creating the foundation. "They believed in supporting the state of New Mexico and the culture," says Harivandi of her parents. "They felt there was so much unique about it." In addition, the Silvers believed many successful people would give to better known universities, but thought UNM deserved its "cheer leading squad" too.
The notion of civic responsibility came into play as well, and Mrs. Silver is passionate about civic support. After marrying, she raised two daughters and was a "volunteer extraordinaire," says Harivandi. Her causes included the peace movement, American Friends Service Committee, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and SANE, an organization for sane nuclear policy. She also played the bassoon and oboe, and would like to have had five children to form a bassoon quintet.
Caswell Silver passed away in 1988. Today, Mrs. Silver makes her home in Santa Fe. She fills her time with church activities, cultural events and art gallery openings. She also travels to see Harivandi's family in California and her daughter Anne Silver's family in Colorado. "She reads widely and thinks about what she reads, which is unusual for people of any age," Harivandi comments. "And she still writes letters to government officials when she feels strongly about an issue. Her sense of civic duty is quite strong."
Lee Silver, who chairs the Caswell Silver Foundation, calls his sister-in-law "an island, a deep thinker and a very modest person. The hardest thing is to get her to talk about herself or accept recognition for what's she's done."
can't overemphasize or exaggerate the strength of the bond between the
Silver family and the department," says McFadden. "They have
just been amazing in terms of their unflagging and sustained support for
this department and its academic research and for teaching programs across
© 2006 The University of New Mexico.