Hobart and William Smith Colleges - Kotcher Family Supports Geoscience Department
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Kotcher Family Supports Geoscience Department

The family of geoscience major Jacob Kotcher ’20 gives back to the department through summer research and equipment funding.

Jacob Kotcher ’20 dabbled in several disciplines during his first semesters on campus — trying out classes in environmental studies and writing and rhetoric — but it was when he took “Earth Systems Science” with Professor of Geoscience Nan Crystal Arens that he found his academic calling. Now, the Kotcher family is giving back to the Colleges through gifts that fund summer science research, field experiences and equipment purchases, with some of the equipment used to explore microplastics in the Seneca Lake watershed this summer.

Jacob’s mother Lauri Kien Kotcher P’20 explains that the family is deeply grateful for the close bond her son developed with Arens that allowed him to thrive academically. “Nan saw that Jacob was somebody who would really flourish in independent research, as he has an intense intellectual curiosity,” she says.

Lauryn Jennings, Jacob Kotcher ’20, Mikayla Gullace ’22 and Roland Lipscomb ’22 gather data on active ripples at Monument Beach.

Lauryn Jennings, Jacob Kotcher ’20, Mikayla Gullace ’22 and Roland Lipscomb ’22 gather data on active ripples at Monument Beach on San Salvador Island, Bahamas during the 2020 Geology of the Bahamas field course.

Arens served as Jacob’s research advisor for his Honors project, “Origination in the Phanerozoic,” focused on the evolution of marine invertebrate genera through geologic time. “From the time I met Nan until I graduated, she guided me in the right direction,” Jacob says. “Advisor meetings were always helpful because she had a very good idea of what courses made sense for me to take at what time.”

When Lauri read the story of the Podlesak family creating a new permanent endowment for history department faculty and student research — Justin Podlesak ’19 and Jacob were roommates on campus — she began to research how the Kotchers could make a similar difference for the geoscience department. They settled on purchasing equipment suggested by geoscience faculty as well as funding a student for summer science research.

“We were really inspired by how caring and interested the faculty was in creating an amazing learning environment for undergrads and especially for Jacob,” Lauri says.

Jacob’s grandparents made gifts to the Brooks McKinney Fund, which provides access for students to participate in field courses offered by geoscience faculty. Jacob studied marine and terrestrial ecology in Queensland Australia and geology in the Bahamas as part of one such field course. “It was an instrumental part of his Hobart experience,” Lauri explains.

A member of the Dean’s List at HWS, Jacob graduated with Honors in geoscience and double minored in environmental studies and writing and rhetoric. He is currently studying for the GRE with plans to attend graduate school and pursue work in the geoscience or GIS fields.

In the photo on top: Mikayla Gullace ’22 and Jacob Kotcher ’20 study the coastal processes at Sandy Point, the southern tip of San Salvador Island.