Norb Cygan (B.S. ’54; Ph.D. ’62) Receives Geology Alumni Achievement Award

Posted on 10.17.2018
Norb Cygan Receives Award
On October 4th, 2018, the department’s Alumni Achievement Award was presented to Dr. Norbert E. Cygan (B.S. ’54; Ph.D. ’62). Norb returned to campus with his wife, Royann, and enjoyed a day of catching up with old friends in the department, meeting new faculty and graduate students, touring the renovated Natural History Building, and presenting a talk about his career and one of his most interesting projects: “"The multi-million-pound uranium deposit at Panna Maria, TX and my 65-year journey in Geology.” The presentation was lively, and included many aspects of the Panna Maria project, from the geochemistry of uranium ore formation, to the “work arounds” that enable success in the face of corporate bureaucracy, to some colorful interactions with local landowners.

Norb was recognized by the department because of his contributions, over a 65-year career, to industry, academia, and a variety of education and outreach organizations. He grew up in Chicago and received his B.S. from the department in 1954. After graduation, he served with the Navy in the Korean War, pursued graduate work at The Ohio State University, and served as an instructor at Ohio Wesleyan before returning to UIUC to pursue his Ph.D. Notably, he served as a TA for Professor Dan Blake ’60! Norb received his Ph.D. in 1962 and was strongly encouraged by the department head, Dr. George White, to pursue an academic career (to those that know Norb well, this comes as no surprise). Norb instead chose Chevron, and stayed for nearly 30 years. He worked first as a micropaleontologist and exploration geologist, then switched to uranium and other minerals. He served as manager of Chevron’s Domestic Mineral Division before moving back into petroleum and being involved in overseas exploration in Africa, Asia, and the USSR. His teaching career revived as he worked in corporate geologic training and taught classes at the University of Houston. He took early retirement in 1991 to care for his wife, Carol Dunnivant Cygan (’56, Education), who lost a battle with cancer the following year. Norb established a scholarship in the College of Education in her name.

Norb’s post-Chevron years are marked by a remarkable degree of engagement with the profession and the community that simply does not fit the word “retirement”. He served in a vast array of roles related to children’s science education and geoscience outreach to the public. Within AAPG, he served on its Science Teachers Awards Committee, chaired its AAPG Convention Teachers Day Program, and chaired its Youth Activities Committee. He has been a central figure in the development and activities of Dinosaur Ridge (, a well-known dinosaur fossil and trackway site just west of Denver. The non-profit organization manages and preserves the site, trains volunteer docents, hosts over 200 schools and tens of thousands of visitors each year, and runs a variety of programs including educational summer camps and trips to other fossil localities in the region. At the Colorado School of Mines and the University of Denver, he has taught Teachers’ Summer Classes and continuing education classes. He also served on the education committee at the American Geological Institute, helped write geological field guides for two boy scout ranches, and has served on the alumni board of this department for many years.

For his dedicated work on behalf of several organizations, Norb has received numerous awards: He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America; the American Association of Petroleum Geologists has bestowed several honors on him (Public Service Award, 1995; Energy Minerals Division Distinguished Service Award, 2001; AAPG Distinguished Service Award, 2003; Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists Public Service Award, 1994); he received the Denver Public Schools “100 Classroom Presentations” recognition in 2013; and Dinosaur Ridge gave him their Lifetime Achievement Award (2009) and Special Distinguished Service Award (2010). Our professional and non-profit geoscience organizations only succeed when people volunteer their time to keep things running and pursue new initiatives. Norb has been extremely active in this regard and the profession has been lucky to benefit from his passion for geoscience, education, and bringing geoscience to the public.