Mark A. Fossett, 1953–2023
Dr. Mark A. Fossett, Professor of Sociology, Texas A&M University, died suddenly in Houston, Texas, in the early morning of June 21, 2023, from complications following two heart valve surgeries. He was 69 years old. Mark was born on December 17, 1953, in Aransas Pass, Texas. As a young child Mark and his parents and his two younger siblings lived for short periods of time in Texas, Montana, California, Arkansas, Indiana, Minnesota, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee as they followed the construction project job demands of their father. In 1964 the Fossett family settled in Ingleside, Texas where Mark and his siblings finished their grammar school years and then progressed through high school.
Mark received all three of his college degrees from The University of Texas at Austin: BA degree in sociology in 1976, MA degree in sociology in 1980, and PhD degree in sociology in 1983. He began his academic career in 1983 as an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Louisiana State University. In 1986 he moved to the University of Texas at Austin where he served for three years as a Research Scientist and Director of Data Services at the UT Population Research Center. In 1989 he moved to College Station, Texas where he joined the faculty of the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M University. Mark remained on the TAMU faculty for 34 years until his untimely death in June of 2023.
While at Texas A&M, Mark served the Department of Sociology as Associate Head from 1995 to 2000, as Graduate Advisor from 2000 to 2005, and as Department Head from 2005 to 2011.
In 2010 Mark and a team of other faculty began work to establish the Texas Federal Statistical Research Data Center (TXRDC) at Texas A&M. Mark and his team worked with officials at the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Science Foundation (NSF), winning an NSF grant that leveraged funding commitments of over two million dollars from the Texas A&M System, Texas A&M University, and a consortium of universities to fund the TXRDC. Mark was its Founding Director, serving from 2011 to 2020. The TXRDC provides access to restricted data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies. At the time of its creation, the TXRDC was the only such center in the central and southern regions of the United States, making it a magnet for high level researchers in a variety of fields, including demography, public health, economics, agriculture, business, and sociology. The establishment of the TXRDC at Texas A&M was the crowning jewel of Mark’s numerous accomplishments in his 40-year career as a sociologist and demographer.
From 1993 to 1999, Mark and several faculty colleagues directed summer programs at Texas A&M, known as Minority Opportunities for Summer Training (MOST) and as Alliances for Minority Participation (AMP), with funding from the American Sociological Association and the Ford Foundation. Then from 2000 to 2017 Mark directed four more programs, known as Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), with funding from the National Science Foundation. The MOST and AMP and REU programs provided funds for eight- to ten-week Summer Institutes for undergraduate students that focused on inequality, stratification, race & ethnicity, and social vulnerability. They provided unprecedented opportunities for many first-generation college students and minority undergraduates to boost their research skills and learn about and even take steps toward graduate education. Every summer since the early 1990s, the programs were held in the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M, each one sponsoring six to ten undergraduate students, providing them with opportunities to participate in graduate-type classes and research programs, enabling them to learn first-hand about graduate school. Many MOST and AMP and REU students later enrolled in graduate programs at Texas A&M and at many other universities. Without these programs, these undergraduates would likely have never even considered pursuing graduate degrees. Mark was the principal leader and director of these programs in the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M for almost twenty-five years.
Mark’s research and teaching interests included racial and ethnic segregation and inequality, urban and spatial demography, social demography, computational methods, quantitative research methods, and demographic techniques. He directed the doctoral committees of eleven graduate students, and the MA thesis committees of ten graduate students. He also co-directed or served on the committees of dozens of other graduate students.
Mark was awarded several large grants to support his research on residential segregation, including grants from the NSF and the NIH. In 2017 he published his monograph, New Methods for Measuring and Analyzing Segregation with Springer. This book was the result of decades of work to address serious flaws in the measurement of residential segregation and presents elegant solutions to these issues with great technical detail, reflecting his commitment to valid research of the highest quality. Mark has another book, coauthored with Amber Crowell, forthcoming with Springer entitled, Racial and Ethnic Residential Segregation Across the United States that applies his new methods and demonstrates the importance of having valid and reliable measurement tools to address residential segregation research questions.
Mark was truly an extraordinary person, colleague, and scholar and one of the kindest human beings ever. He was dedicated to making things better, fairer, and more equitable, whether the focus was the Department of Sociology, Texas A&M University, or the larger society. He selflessly devoted much of his career creating opportunities for students and colleagues. In particular, he spent an enormous amount of time with his students. He wanted them to learn, understand, and be the strongest social scientists possible by following the science and using the most rigorous methods and approaches.
Mark was scheduled in the Fall of 2023 to transition into a phase out retirement program where he would work 1/2 time at Texas A&M for two years and then fully retire in 2025, at age 71. He always told us he wanted to retire to the Texas Coast where he grew up and spend his retirement years surfing, sampling IPAs, and following his beloved Houston Astros. Sadly, his untimely death deprived him and his family and us of these most pleasurable times.
Mark’s colleagues, students, associates, and friends are all grieving at his early death. We’re grieving for his wife Betsy and their children Lane and Tyler and Kate and their families, and their grandchild, Flora.
Finally, we note the establishment of the Dr. Mark Fossett Memorial Fund, which was created in June of 2023, to support Texas A&M graduate students working on projects in the Texas Research Data Center (TXRDC) or preparing a proposal to do research in the TXRDC. We know Mark would be pleased to be associated with opportunities for students to participate in the kind of research that meant so much to him.
Students will be able to apply for conference travel funds from the Dr. Mark Fossett Memorial Fund to present results from a TXRDC project, or for funds for assistance with project needs such as fees or summer support. To contribute on-line, the Texas A&M Foundation link is https://www.txamfoundation.com/give.aspx. Select “unlisted account” from the drop-down menu on the “Select a Unit or College” line, and enter this account name and Number:
02-512709-10000 – Dr. Mark Fossett Memorial
Dudley Poston, Texas A&M University; Jane Sell, Texas A&M University, Amber Crowell, California State University, Fresno; Walter Gillis Peacock, Texas A&M University