Alumni Stories, Donor Impact, Profiles

Legacy gift makes signature experience possible for next generation of geologists

Geology students out in the field
Damon, Sarah, and Duncan Brown seated on a couch.
Damon, Sarah, and Duncan Brown. Photo courtesy of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
UC Santa Cruz Earth Sciences alum Damon Brown knew the value of preservation. As a geologist, he used knowledge of the past to build a better future, studying the causes of climate change and identifying new, sustainable energy sources. With that kind of long-term thinking in mind, he and his wife Sarah, a fellow geologist, were certain they wanted to make an enduring impression on the field to ensure that the next generations of geologists would be best prepared to continue their life’s work. So they made an estate plan that would accomplish that goal through UC Santa Cruz. What they didn’t know was how soon that gift would be realized.

Damon, who grew up in Marin, CA, earned his BA in Earth Sciences at UC Santa Cruz in 1980. He met Sarah in Colorado while they were both pursuing advanced degrees in geology. The couple moved to California, were married, and their son Duncan arrived in 1994. The family was active in the small Sonoma County community of Graton.

The Browns shared a love for flying; all three had pilot’s licenses. Damon volunteered for Angel Flights, transporting the seriously ill from remote locations to medical facilities. He served as president at EBA Engineering, a civil and environmental engineering firm in Santa Rosa. Sarah was a petroleum geologist and a writer, authoring 11 geology-themed mystery books under her maiden name, Sarah Andrews. Duncan, who recently earned a master’s degree, was working for an architectural firm.

One of their family traditions was an annual summer trip to Wisconsin to attend the Experimental Aircraft Association’s fly-in convention. On July 24, 2019, on their way home from the event, their private twin-engine aircraft crashed just short of a municipal airfield in Nebraska, where they intended to refuel. Tragically, all three perished in the accident.

Out of this unimaginable tragedy emerged possibilities for UC Santa Cruz students pursuing careers in geology. The Browns, who believed in the value of this transformational experience, left a legacy gift designating funds to the Gerald Weber and Susan Holt Fund, which provides Summer Field Camp scholarships for geology students who otherwise may not have the financial support to participate.

Summer Field Camp is the signature event for senior students in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department. It includes an intensive five-week mapping experience in the Poleta Folds of the Eastern Sierras, an area revered as one of the most complexly folded and faulted areas in California. In this capstone course, students build fundamental skills such as teamwork, systematic data collection and observation in complex settings, spatial visualization, and critical thinking while acquiring valuable resume-enhancing hands-on experience.

“This is an incredible bonding experience for people in the field of geology,” says Matthew Clapham, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department. “Field camp offers a hands-on, shared experience and networking opportunities for students that they don’t get in the classroom.”

The field camp, which has been offered for 40 years, typically costs around $2,500 per student. According to Clapham, roughly half the 18-20 students who participate each year receive scholarship support. “Central to our department is a focus on access, equity, and diversity. The funds from this gift embrace these values by removing barriers and enabling every geology student the chance to participate,” he said.

Catherine Takata (Stevenson College, ’19), who received a scholarship to participate in this iconic experience said, “This financial encouragement was what I needed to tackle summer field camp with confidence.” Takata is now a marine policy advocacy and communications intern with the National Ocean Protection Coalition at Resources Legacy Fund.

Legacy gifts create possibilities and build futures. Through their estate plans, alumni preserve the excellence in teaching, research, academics, and experiential opportunities that make the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department one of the most distinguished of its kind in the country. To learn more about how you can leave a legacy gift that will have a transformative effect on the lives of our geology students, please contact our development office at or call (831) 459-2192.