Vested in Promise
Timothy Deidesch and Mohammad Moniruzzaman are the first two recipients of the Penley Fellowship which provides a graduate student with resources to pursue a research project or creative endeavor of exceptional promise.
Timothy Diedesch’s footing has not always been as solid as a rock.
Hard-headed lessons came from landing on academic probation, and ultimately suspension, from a California state university, where he began with the end in mind—earning potential—not his passion.
With college-educated parents—his mother was in her fifties when she received her bachelor’s degree—failure was not an option. He built a new foundation by changing majors and enrolling in a community college in the Sacramento area.
“This was my academic rebirth,” he says. “I took a general education science class—geology—where most of the labs consisted of short field trips to look at different rock formations around the central coast of California.
“Wait a minute, there’s an area of study that not only allows you, but requires you, to be outdoors most of the time?”
His world shifted, and geology was at the center of it all.
With a bachelor’s degree in geology from Sacramento State University and a master’s in geosciences from Idaho State, Diedesch is at the cusp of defending his dissertation for his doctorate degree from UT’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Studying surface exposures of large rock formations known as gneiss domes, Diedesch has lived in pockets of the Himalayan Mountains—which are rich in these structures—to understand the middle and lowest layers of the Earth’s crust. The Lhagoi Kangri gneiss dome, 100 kilometers north of Mount Everest, had never been studied before the work of Diedesch and Micah Jessup, his advisor and associate professor of structural geology and tectonics.
Unraveling the secrets of the Himalayan geologic history, dating back nearly fifty million years to the collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates, came to fruition for Diedesch because of the Charles and Connally Penley Fellowship, available to graduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“The fellowship is a reminder that philanthropy encompasses more than its traditional role as a means to improve the quality of life of the beneficiary,” explains Diedesch.
“There is no doubt that the fellowship in the short term has eased my burdens of graduate student life and in the long term has helped me accomplish research goals that will make me more competitive for employment. However, the fellowship has also provided me the opportunity to contribute intellectually to my discipline, in turn, improving the general understanding of Earth’s processes.” The $10,000 fellowship has also carved out a way in the Department of Microbiology for doctoral candidate Mohammad Moniruzzaman. Moniruzzaman examines how viruses interact with marine algae, which is one of the culprits of brown tides in coastal waters that equate to $50 million in damages annually to the US shellfish industry.
“Without the fellowship, the experiments I proposed wouldn’t have been possible,” says Moniruzzaman, who sees himself as “a leaf of a much bigger tree.”
“Science needs philanthropists and enthusiasts who will come forward to support it, and the Penleys did just that by impressing this idea and strengthening my conviction that science will move forward despite any limitations.”
Tangible partners in scientific discoveries, medical oncologist W. Charles Penley (Microbiology ’78), and his wife, Connally, are vested in graduate education. They established the Penley Fellowships because they believe creative innovation leads to great promise, which ultimately can change the landscape of humanity.
“I found my calling. My end goal now is to recruit, teach, and inspire a whole new crop of geo-nerds,” says Diedesch.
– CHANDRA HARRIS-McCRAY