AAPG Foundation Names Colorado Educator as Recipient of 2020 Inspirational Geoscience Educator Award

The AAPG Foundation is proud to announce that Bradford “Brad” Burton, an associate professor in the Natural and Environmental Sciences Department at Western Colorado University (WCU) in Gunnison, Colo., has been named as the 2020 Inspirational Geoscience Educator Award (IGEA) recipient. Burton holds the Rady Chair in Petroleum Geology at WCU, where he instructs and mentors undergraduate students. Burton says he uses a “practical approach to geoscience education by introducing students to real-world data and projects, challenging students to be problem solvers and to work with uncertainty.”

Burton’s current research, in collaboration with colleagues Elizabeth Petrie (WCU) and Kelly Bradbury (USU), focuses on the kinematic history of a graphitic fault zone in the Pioneer Mountains core complex in south-central Idaho, and relating that tectonic history to modern and ancient faults in the region for Earth science education. 

Burton grew up in Billings, Mont., a son of a petroleum geologist. “I do not recall a time when geology was not a major part of my life,” he said. “Dad would strap me into his old Power Wagon and we would bounce across the Montana prairie through the night to some drilling rig or outcrop. By five, I would recite the geological time scale and wash the drilling mud from cutting samples.”

After a tour of duty in the United States Marine Corps, Burton earned his bachelor’s degree at Montana State University, his master’s degree at Idaho State University and his doctoral degree from the University of Wyoming. His 18-year career in the petroleum industry included leadership and executive positions in frontier basin and international exploration for Norcen Energy, Shell Canada, Talisman Energy and P1 Energy Corporation.

Former student, and current graduate student at Colorado School of Mines, Alex Branda said that “while studying seismic, petrophysics and production data associated with oil fields.” Burton also introduced students to “the business variables as well. The challenges he presented in these projects was his way of using industry experience to help students problem-solve as geologists and formulate solutions as though we were working under specific economic business models.” Branda said that Burton’s teaching “shaped me into the geologist and professional I am today … I attribute him with much of my success over the past few years, and I’m more than optimistic for future geology students to come.”

2020 Inspirational Geoscience Educator Award recipient, Brad Burton
2020 Inspirational Geoscience Educator Award recipient, Brad Burton

Another former student and current graduate student at Colorado School of Mines, Corey Milar had an internship in Canada, sponsored by Infinity Oil and Gas, with Burton as principal investigator. “[Burton] oversaw and supervised all aspects of our research. This experience enhanced my understanding of the oil and gas industry and provided practical work experience in petroleum exploration.

As a professor, Milar said that Burton “expects deliverables that are consistent with professional standards” and “encourages a positive, ethical and team-driven environment, all while holding each individual accountable for the quality of their work.”

Mentorship is a key component of Burton’s pedagogical philosophy. “Throughout my career, the mentorship of professors and senior geologists with whom I worked has always been my most important guiding force,” Burton said, “and it is that type of mentorship that I have tried to bring to students at Western Colorado University.”

Each year the AAPG Foundation honors a college or university professor who demonstrates professorial excellence and inspires students to study and to pursue careers in the geosciences with the IGEA and a cash prize of $6,000. Burton is the award’s ninth recipient.