Puckett new chairman of Department of Geography and Geology

Published: Jul. 12, 2016 at 9:41 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 12, 2016 at 9:46 AM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The following is a news release from The University of Southern Mississippi.

A University of Southern Mississippi alumnus has been picked to lead its Department of Geography and Geology as chairman.

Mark Puckett, who earned undergraduate degrees in biology and geology from USM in 1983, returns to Southern Miss from the University of North Alabama where he was a professor of geology and director of its Center for Sustainability Studies.

"I am very excited about being back at USM," Puckett said. "I'm looking forward to meeting many new people and working hard for the students, faculty and administration."

Puckett said his goals as chairman include maximizing the potential of the department through effective use of resources, such as faculty opportunities to engage in their work, travel to conferences, student involvement in the college experience and the department's role in the greater university and community. He also plans to work with the department's faculty in Hattiesburg and at the Gulf Park Campus in Long Beach to determine and clarify its vision going forward.

"Geography and geology are central to understanding the past, present and future of our planet and of life on it, so we are united by that vision," he said. "It's going to be such a great experience to learn and grow with everyone in the department."

A geologist by training, Puckett's research expertise includes tiny fossils known as ostracodes, which are crustaceans about the size of fine sand.

"Many look like peanuts, and are also called seed shrimp," Puckett said.

His work with colleagues in Jamaica revealed many new species of ostracodes from the very end of the Late Cretaceous Epoch.

Puckett holds a master's degree in geology from Mississippi State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama. In 1999, he received the W. Storrs Cole Memorial Research Award from the Geological Society of America in support of his research. He joys working on large projects, and has published several monographs. A recent paper he wrote with French colleagues detailed the breakup of the supercontinent of Pangea and how it affected the evolution of a common group of shallow marine ostracodes.

Another area of interest for Puckett is sustainability. While at UNA, he engaged colleagues across departments and colleges in a dialogue on issues concerning sustainability, which led to the organization of conferences and establishment of its Center for Sustainability Studies, as well as a new publication, the Journal for Sustainability Studies.

Puckett says he comes from a long line of Mississippians, with some of his family having settled in the state more than 200 years ago. His connection to USM began when he lived in the campus' Pinehaven apartments in the early 1960s while his father pursued a master's degree in mathematics and worked as one of the first computer programmers in its embryonic computer center.

"Years later, after I graduated from high school in Ohio, I came back to Southern to get my undergraduate degree, Puckett said. "I met my wife, Julie, here and we got married a semester before I graduated. My sister also came down from Ohio to attend Southern and graduated with me. I have the greatest memories of living in Hattiesburg, and I am very glad to be back."

Puckett said having geography and geology in the same department creates a natural synergy.

"Many of the faculty members are actively involved in important issues in sustainability, such as cutting-edge research on hazard-warning systems in the event of a hurricane on the Gulf Coast, understanding climate change by looking at tree ring data, pollen and spores, geospatial analysis of coastal dynamics, teaching and researching sustainable economic systems, and many other applications," he said. "I can think of nothing more important."

The department's geology program now has several new faculty members, Puckett said, including an assistant professor specializing in plate tectonics and deep Earth processes.

"We also have an instructor with experience in the petroleum industry who will be very important in our undergraduate program," he said, "so we're in an exciting position and want to make it the best we can."

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