November 6, 2018

Patty Holyfield ’74 was one of the few female undergraduate students studying geology at Texas A&M University in the 1970s.

When Elliot B. “Ben” Vaughn ’74 thought about what it meant to leave behind a legacy, he knew he wanted to honor a one-of-a-kind classmate.

Patty Holyfield ’74 was one of the few female undergraduate students studying geology at Texas A&M University in the 1970s. A pioneer in her field and a trailblazer for all Aggie women, she was one of three women to graduate from the College of Geosciences in 1974. She returned to Texas A&M to receive her master’s degree in geology before starting a career with Hunt Energy and later Supron Energy Corp.

“She was by far the brightest student in class—head and shoulders above everyone else,” Vaughn said. “Patty was a delight to be around and always shared her knowledge with those who were struggling with their workloads. She showed me what it meant to be a servant leader in every endeavor.”

Holyfield’s passion for geology and her entrepreneurial spirit reached far beyond the perimeters of Aggieland. She created a program to teach fundamental geology principles to primary and secondary teachers and to students from third to 12th grade. Titled “Rocks in Your Head,” the program gave teachers and students the basic tools for understanding and appreciating geology, including demonstrations that focused on specialized areas in the industry. One lesson in particular featured an oil exploration simulation, during which students learned about real-world skills in drilling, negotiating, and calculating profits and losses for a company. The class was more than a way to educate people; it gave her the opportunity to share what she loved most with those around her.

When Holyfield passed away in 2002 from cancer, Vaughn knew he wanted to honor her profound work in the geosciences industry. In 2016, he created a planned gift of life insurance through the Texas A&M Foundation to establish the Patty Holyfield ’74 Foundation Excellence Award fund, which will support undergraduate women seeking degrees in geology or geophysics at Texas A&M.

Dr. Masako Tominaga '05, assistant professor of geology and geophysics at Texas A&M, gathered geophysical data and rock samples in British Columbia, Canada, that may yield new insights into the properties and structure of Earth's interior.

“I wanted to encourage young women to study some of the most challenging issues our world will face in the future,” he said. “The geosciences field could use greater diversity, and I think women can contribute a unique perspective to the new and varied changes in geosciences we see today.”

A planned gift of life insurance can fund an endowment for any area at Texas A&M, which will provide ongoing financial support for years to come. To make a gift of life insurance, an individual can transfer ownership of an existing policy and designate the Foundation as beneficiary; purchase a new policy with the Foundation as owner and beneficiary; or retain ownership and change the beneficiary designation to the Foundation.

In addition to his life insurance gift, Vaughn later created a $1 million gift in his will, also known as a bequest, to provide additional funding for the Foundation Excellence Award endowment in Patty’s name. His bequest ensures that the scholarship fund will continue awarding deserving students who share Patty’s love and admiration for geology and geophysics.

A bequest is one of the simplest ways to give back to Texas A&M. With this method, an individual includes specific bequest language in their will or trust specifying a gift be made to the Foundation as part of his or her estate plan. Individuals can retain assets during their lifetimes, lessen the burden of taxes on their families and support a Texas A&M area of their choosing.

Vaughn’s hope is that this scholarship will inspire women to pursue careers in geosciences. “I’m hoping there is another Patty Holyfield out there, and we can find her through this scholarship,” he said. “It’s critical to identify and support women who can help us further geological sciences. I’m proud to help any way that I can.”

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in geology from Texas A&M, Vaughn spent the majority of his career overseas working with ExxonMobil and Hess Corp. He is now happily retired and resides in Houston.

Reach Out to Underrepresented Students

Foundation Excellence Award (FEA) scholarships are awarded to outstanding undergraduate students from historically disadvantaged groups often underrepresented in the Texas A&M student body, including minorities and those who face significant economic or educational hurdles. A $50,000 gift will establish an endowed FEA scholarship, which provides one student an annual stipend for four years and continues to support a new student every four years. 

FEA gifts are tax-deductible and can be made in the form of cash, securities, real estate or other property. Many donors utilize their employers’ matching gifts program to support the creation of their FEA award.