Les and Dianne White Donate Ranch to Jackson School

Isabella Anderson

Les and Dianne White donated their 266-acre ranch to the Jackson School of Geosciences, the school that fed Les’s curiosity and developed his love of learning.

Les White graduated from UT in 1956 with a degree in geology and now enjoys an extended family of UT graduates and professors. The ranch taught Les, forever the outdoorsman, a perspective that does not come from a textbook, which inspired him to donate it to geoscience students.

“After my first exposure to geology, I began to enjoy learning about the mysteries that were beneath my feet,” White said.

The White property, an hour’s drive from campus, will serve as both a classroom environment and a site for independent research, according to David Mohrig, the Jackson School’s Associate Dean for Research.

Mohrig added that when geology students conduct required fieldwork, they transition from thinking about themselves as science students to full-fledged earth scientists.

“It’s (field work) a great way to get students very quickly engaged in the practice of their major,” said Mohrig.

An issue with most fieldwork at UT, however, is caused by issues with accessibility, he added.

“In many field experiences, you go to a place once or twice and that’s it,” Mohrig said. “It may be a fantastic experience, but it’s just once or twice out of the whole annual cycle that you actually happen to be there.”

With the ownership of the ranch, JSG can offer a home base for continuous geological research, said Daniella Rempe, geological sciences assistant professor, who co-teaches a hydrology field camp that visited the ranch in May.

“We can accumulate decades of knowledge on this property since it is going to be part of a long-term observatory type setting,” said Rempe.

Logan Schmidt, a second year PhD student in the JSG who participated in the hydrology field camp, said the ranch will improve accessibility.

“Most of these methods are pretty complicated … so having a place that’s close by that has the space and the interesting hydrology to get practice and experience using different hydrologic techniques is really useful,” he said.

Mohrig said that plans for the land can branch into various geologic fields as data can be collected on the ranch’s subsurface rocks, streams, creeks and trees.

“The goal is to make this a place where as many people as possible doing as diverse a set of observations as possible are accommodated,” Mohrig said. “Our challenge is to make sure that they’re accommodated in a way that we don’t degrade the landscape.”

Sharon Mosher, Dean of the JSG, said plans for development include installing a flux tower that monitors changes in weather over time. This can serve as a continuous observation of regional atmospheric changes.

White said that the single greatest reason that he chose to donate the ranch was his life-changing experience at UT and the Jackson School.

“It is an absolutely wonderful institution stacked with wonderful people,” said White. “Once I owned a piece of land, I learned a parental instinct to take care of the land. It’s my hope that some of the students that visit that ranch will learn to love the land.”