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Shaping future geologists: WVU alumni couple provides opportunities through field experience

WVU geology students participating in Field Camp visit Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Alumni Dan and Pam Billman established a fund that helps cover travel costs for students to gain field experience.

WVU geology students participating in Field Camp visit Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Alumni Dan and Pam Billman established a fund that helps cover travel costs for students to gain field experience.

Ohio native Dan Billman has always been science-minded and had a fascination with rocks. Growing up on Lake Erie furthered his interest in rock formations, but it was a family friend and freshwater biologist who inspired Billman to pursue a career in geology.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in geology at the University of Toledo, Billman chose West Virginia University for his master’s degree. While he applied to other schools, WVU offered him financial support other universities did not.

“The faith and interest they showed in me by giving me a teaching assistantship and a stipend, paying for my education and allowing me to have a little spending money, it was always appreciated,” Billman said.

Dan and Pam Billman

While attending WVU, Billman met his wife, Pam, a fellow geologist who also received a teaching assistantship from the University. Years later, the Billmans decided to give back by establishing the Geology Student Field Experience Fund, which benefits students within the Department of Geology and Geography at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

“Geology is a unique program at most universities in that typically you will be required to take a summer course, usually a field camp, and it's expensive,” Billman said. “My wife and I and some now-retired geology professors came up with the fund to offset the costs for the students, to get them out in the field and get them that experience.”

Since 2015, the fund has helped hundreds of students gain field experience through graduate research, field trips and more – including Matthew Ellis, a Bridgeport native who was drawn to geology by his interest in outdoor science. Ellis attended WVU due to its proximity to his hometown and graduated in December 2023 with his bachelor’s degree.

During his education, Ellis participated in Field Camp, a three-week program that takes students to the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming.

“Field Camp has been a staple of the geology curriculum. It's just kind of an integral part of our training as geologists,” Ellis said. “It's a great opportunity to see a new place, new structures and new rocks, and it prepares you in a lot of different ways. It tests a lot of the skills you have been preparing throughout your undergraduate years, and at Field Camp, you are really trying to put it all together. That culmination of testing all your skills in a new place and learning about new geology is what Field Camp's all about.”

Ellis received support from the Billmans’ Geology Field Experience Fund, helped to offset the financial burdens of attending Field Camp.

“The last thing you want to be doing when you're out there and you're looking at rocks is to be distracted by money and by financials,” Ellis said. “It can be a real burden to take three weeks out of your summer that you could be working and making money. That is something the field experience fund really helps with is being able to take your mind off that money. I think it'll give a lot of the future students what it gave to me, so thank you.”

The Billmans reside in Houston, Pennsylvania, where they have their own business, Billman Geologic Consultants. They have continued to give to the field experience fund since their initial gift, contributing nearly $300,000 to help it grow.

“It is purely to help those next generations be better geologists, to increase their understanding of the geologic processes and to give back to the University that helped me,” Dan Billman said.

The couple’s gifts were made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University. Make a gift online by visiting and selecting the Geology Student Field Experience Fund as your designation.

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