Rock Solid Careers
By Mary Beth Erskine
TAMPA, Fla. (April 27, 2010) –Ever since Josh Michaud was a child, he has loved science. Growing up, he watched NOVA and the Discovery Channel with his dad all the time. So it was only natural that after taking his first geology course at USF, he knew he had found the ideal major.
Michaud will be graduating this spring, and he plans to work in soil remediation or geophysics conducting sinkhole research.
According to geology professor Mark Rains, being a USF geology alum, Michaud’s prospects for finding a position in geology are excellent.
“I can’t think of a single USF alum with a degree in geology who is not employed,” said Rains. “Our students have a great track record for finding positions in hydrogeology, environmental geophysics or coastal geology in the west central Florida area.”
According to Rains, one of the reasons USF geology alumni are so successful in landing positions is the abundance of water, geophysical and coastal-related issues in the state. Equally significant, however, are the strong ties between geology faculty and professionals in both the private and public sectors. “We literally can put students in touch with everyone in the field within the Tampa Bay region,” said Rains.
Lindsey Brewer, also a graduating geology major, can vouch for that. While Brewer will be pursuing graduate studies in hydrogeochemistry at the University of Wyoming after commencement, during her undergraduate years at USF, she was awarded two separate internships thanks to connections she had made with area professionals.
Brewer’s first internship, with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), came about as a result of working with USGS Hydrologic Investigations Chief Arturo Torres during the six-week summer hydrogeology field camp required of all geology majors. Torres, a 34-year USGS veteran, has been working with USF’s Geology Department for six years with the program taking groups on site visits to the Everglades. Consequently, he gets to know students and said that it’s an ideal way to identify qualified candidates for internships or future employment.
“USGS has had a partnership with the Geology Department for 10 years,” Torres said. “We have always found USF students to be very qualified and well prepared. In fact, during the last 25 years, more than 75 of our employees have been USF graduates.”
The lynchpin in that connection between USF faculty and students and geological, environmental and geotechnical professionals is the USF Geology Alumni Society – an organization that attracts primarily USF geology alumni but also includes geologists with degrees from other universities who want to be connected with fellow professionals in the area. The group has a strong commitment to USF students and partners with the Geology Department to create multiple opportunities throughout the year for students to engage with professionals.
The yearly Richard A. Davis Jr. Scholarship Banquet, for example, not only raises funds for graduate student scholarships, but provides geology students with an opportunity to network with professionals from practically every geology-related business in the Tampa Bay area. Less formal gatherings dubbed “Rockbreakers” offer similar opportunity in casual settings.
“We put students in touch with alumni so frequently that it becomes easy for them to find employment because they already have the connections,” said Rains. In fact, he now finds that many colleagues within the circle of geology professionals in the area are former USF students.
A key event each year that serves both educational and networking goals is the annual GeoExpo. Hosted by the Geology Alumni Society and supported by both the USF Geology Department and the student Geology Club, the event attracts a wide variety of professionals from local private industry and governmental agencies who demonstrate state-of-the-art geological equipment and technologies and share information about their organizations.
For example, at this year’s expo representatives from ATI Drilling demonstrated the operation of a drill rig to install a well. Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) representatives Jerry Mallams, Dave DeWitt, and Kevin Stover, assisted by Tiffany Horstman and Jason LaRoche, displayed samples of test borings millions of years old that show how the earth looks in various parts of Florida. Expo coordinator and USF alumnus Mike Wightman from GeoView, Inc. discussed the non-intrusive geophysical services his company provides using the latest in geophysical hardware and software such as ground penetrating radar.
For the first time, area high school students were invited to the expo, including AP Environmental Science students from Middleton High School.
“We want to bolster the importance of the geosciences for the next generation,” said Brewer, who coordinated the outreach initiative. “Within the next 20 years, approximately 40 percent of the current earth scientists will be retiring. So it’s very important that we get these students interested in the environmental sciences.”
For current USF students, however, the Expo is a key networking tool.
"The networking students do at events like this open doors," said Mallams with SWFWMD. "I have assisted several students that I met at the Expo get positions with SWFWMD. They earn the opportunities themselves, but their first contact with us often comes through the Expo."
Photos by Aimee Blodgett
The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.