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University of Houston Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences: Its Origin and Highlights of its First 80 Years of Education and Service to the Oil Industry


The founding of the UH EAS department in 1934 closely followed the founding of the forerunner of the University of Houston in 1927, the Houston Junior College. The Houston Junior College chartered by the Houston Independent School District and housed in a local high school in south Houston near the present-day UH campus, was initiated by a group of 230 Houston area high school students who could not only not afford to travel to Austin or College Station but also needed to work parttime to support themselves while continuing their higher education in Houston. The two year college offered basic courses in all subjects including a four introductory courses on Geology offered in 1934, the year taken as the founding of the present EAS Department. Humble Oil Company, a major exploration force in the rapidly growing Houston area oil industry, provided the first two, part-time Geology instructors. By 1936, the junior college had expanded to a four year program and graduated its first Geology BS student in 1939. The growing college was outgrowing its borrowed high school and needed a new campus. After rejecting the site of the present-day Memorial Park, the college moved to a spacious, 75 acre site at the present location of UH donate by J. J. Settegast and Ben Taub with the stipulation that construction needed to start by January 1, 1938, or the land donation would be withdrawn. Well known oilman and Houston philanthropist Roy Cullen rose to the challenge by donating $250,000 of his own money and helping to organize fellow Houstonians to raise an additional $750,000 to complete the first permanent buildings on the UH campus with the Geology Department ensconced in one of these newly endowed buildings. Fueled by the demands of the growing petroleum industry both in Texas and beyond, the EAS department flourished with its first full-time professor hired in 1940, Dr. Keith Hussey, and steadily rising numbers of Geology and geophysics from the 1940s to the present. The masters graduate program expanded steadily from 1948 when the first degree was awarded in 1939. By 1956 geophysics was established as one of the first undergrad and grad degree programs in the US. From its humble beginnings in 1934, the EAS department is currently the largest undergrad (650) and grad (350) program in Geology and geophysics in the USA that combines a specialty in Atmospheric Sciences program that has focussed its research on air quality issues in Houston and other major cities.