In memoriam : John Wickham, Longtime EES professor and administrator

His quiet, steady leadership guided the department for two decades

Wednesday, Jan 31, 2024 • Greg Pederson :

John Wickham 

The UTA Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences lost a dear friend and longtime professor and administrator with the passing of John Samuel Wickham, professor emeritus, in October.

Dr. Wickham died October 25, 2023, at age 85, at his home in Arlington. He had a 53-year career in academia and the corporate world, including 30 years at UTA. He led the Department of EES as chair for two decades and implemented many new degree programs and certificates.

The department plans to host a special seminar in his honor at 12 p.m. Friday, February 2 in EES Room 100 where colleagues will discuss his career and many accomplishments. The event is open to the public.

“Dr. Wickham was a wonderful colleague, and he had a substantial impact on the department,” said Arne Winguth, professor and chair of the EES department. “As chair he led the department with great intuition and vision.

“In addition to his outstanding research activities, John was a distinguished educator who was beloved by his students. The faculty and staff frequently sought his advice throughout his tenure. He was a great colleague and friend to many, and he will truly be missed.”

Dr. Wickham’s research interests included structural geology and tectonics; measurement of natural strain and its relationship to folds and faults; numerical and physical modeling of geologic deformation; fracturing and fracture density; regional structural geology in the Ouachitas, Arbuckles, Appalachians, U.S. Rocky Mountains, California coast ranges, and Taiwan fold belt.

He was born March 24, 1938, in Pomona, California to Winthrop Woodward Wickham and Anna Lois (Lackey) Wickham. He graduated from Chaffey High School in Ontario, California, where he was an athlete, accomplished pianist, and an editor of the school paper. Through family camping and fishing trips and while working summers in his father’s surveying business, he developed a love of nature.

He received a B.A. degree in geology from Pomona College in 1960. He moved to New York and served in the Coast Guard’s Marine Inspection Office from 1961-64, reaching the rank of lieutenant junior grade. He then enrolled in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and began work on a Ph.D. in geology, which he earned in 1969.

That same year, Dr. Wickham accepted a faculty position at the University of Oklahoma as an assistant professor in the School of Geology and Geophysics. While at OU he taught classes, did research, led field camps, advised graduate students, and wrote and received grants. From 1980-85 he served as department director.

In 1986 he left OU to take a position as research associate at Mobil Oil Corp. in Dallas. He continued in this role until 1992, when he accepted an offer from UTA to serve as professor and chair of what was then called the Department of Geology.

At UTA, in addition to his administrative duties, teaching and research, Dr. Wickham organized the department’s summer geology field camp and led it for many years. In 1993 he proposed the creation of a Ph.D. program for Earth and Environmental Sciences, an interdisciplinary program which included civil engineering, geology, biology, chemistry, and urban planning. The program was approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in the mid-1990s.

Dr. Wickham transformed the departmental vision from solid Earth geology to Earth system science which includes the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and anthroposphere. In 2010 he led the move to change the name of the department from Geology to Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Because the department’s alumni traditionally have strong ties to the oil and gas industry, he created a new Petroleum Geoscience Option as an addition to the EES M.S. degree program. He also added many certificate options to the EES graduate program, including the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) certificate. He initiated a professional option for the B.S. of Science in Geology and created new B.S. degree programs including the Environmental Science and Geoinformatics option.

In 2010 Dr. Wickham (co-PI) and Andrew Hunt (PI), associate professor of EES, received a five-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a project titled “Advancing Undergraduates to Geo-environmental Master’s degrees for Engaged Needs-based Talented Students (Augments)”. The program sought to assist students in the completion of bachelor degrees and master’s degrees in Earth and environmental science by providing mentoring, professional development opportunities and scholarships.

Dr. Wickham stepped down as department chair in 2012 and was succeeded by Asish Basu. He retired as a full-time professor in 2017 and was named professor emeritus. He continued teaching and advising until September 2022. 

During his career he wrote dozens of published articles, guidebooks, abstracts, and company reports, and supervised more than 40 master’s and doctoral students. He served on numerous department, university, and professional organization committees throughout this career. Conferences, field studies and his consulting work took him to places across the United States, Canada, Taiwan, Indonesia, Australia, Spain, and England.

Dr. Wickham was a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, Dallas Geological Society, Fort Worth Geological Society, AAPG Division of Environmental Geoscientists, and Association of Engineering Geologists. In 2014 he was named Educator of the Year by the AAPG Southwest Section.

Family and friends remember Dr. Wickham for his keen sense of humor and quiet, thoughtful disposition. He loved the outdoors and with his family went on numerous camping and hiking trips to state and national parks. He was an avid reader and book collector and enjoyed intellectual challenges such as bridge, chess, and other games. He liked to run, ride bikes and snow ski—skiing became an annual family trip for years. 

He is survived by his wife Kate Wickham; daughter Kristel and her husband Lance Scudder; daughter Marta and her husband Victor Estevez; son Jonathan and his wife Lisa Wickham; sisters Joan Jones and Susan Purdy and their families; seven grandchildren; as well as many cousins, friends, students, and colleagues.

A memorial service for family was held at Moore Funeral Home in Arlington. The family requests that any donations in Dr. Wickham’s memory be made to the University of Texas at Arlington Earth and Environmental Sciences Department and/or the UTA Scholarship Fund Here.


John Wickham 



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