What I have been doing in College

Mostly, I’m doing schoolwork and some research work. I went back to school starting in January of this year, so I got started mid-term.

Spring Semester 2012
I want to ‘get involved’ in student groups so I signed up for GIS club. I attend some sessions; things are disorganized and do not progress very quickly. Nothing much comes of this endeavor. Get involved? Failure.

The memorable class of the semester was an upper level seminar class that involved writing a schooly blog. I found my writer’s voice in this class. The blog not polished. I also had an amusing Biogeography class where we read and did reports on various scientific journal articles in the field. I hope to be able to do something similar to an NGWA article at some point in time, just because the forum is a pretty sleepy place, but that is a pretty tertiary goal.

I bug my advisor for research opportunity. Nothing comes up.

After a successful 2 year living arrangement with a friend, his girlfriend moves in. They have been dating for over a year and he loves her. This does terrible things to the living arrangement and our friendship. I will accept a decent part of the responsibility, but not all of it.

I sign up to mentor an exchange student. Qi is a Chinese business masters student. She accuses me of being an artist. It is a mutually beneficial relationship.

I take advantage of the fitness resources the university has. I finish the semester in the best shape of my life.

Grandmother (flashback)
My grandmother, the family matriarch, is a helluva woman. In 2011 she turned 90 and we had a big family reunion. A few days before Thanksgiving that year, she is in a horrible car accident. She is in the passenger seat and the driver falls asleep at the wheel. The car drifts over into the left lane, into the ditch, hits the embankment, and flips a bunch of times. Its the pushing-up-daisies variety of car accident; I’ve been to that funeral. But not my grandmother’s. She spends the next month in a hospital. She gets out a couple days before Christmas. When I go home for the holidays she is practicing turning over playing cards so she can go the bridge club, if not next week, the week after.

Summer Semester 2012
I return from my cousin’s graduation party to find my landlord of seven years crying on my couch with all my roommates gathered around. I lived with her and her husband for four years. I’ve watched her son be born and grow. There is a pall over the room. She intends to move. Immediately. She asks us to find emergency summer housing asap so she can move in. I find a place with a friend above a bar downtown.

I get depressed for a period of time. I didn’t deserve to get thrown out of my house. But hell, I don’t have a young child and a marriage that is falling apart, so I can’t complain too much. Now, living downtown above a bar while being depressed is not a good recipe for keeping money in my bank account. I look up the bridge club here in town, and learn to play bridge. It is fun, I’m fairly competent, and I get to watch old people bicker. It’s four dollars for three and a half hours of keeping myself out of trouble, so it is a good investment.

The notable class I take during the summer semester is Intro to GIS. If I hadn’t figured it out from GIS club, the class cements in my mind that, while I am somewhat proficient at using GIS software, I really don’t enjoy it. If I am lucky, if I find myself needing to do such a task, I’ll also be in a position to snooker someone else into doing it for me.

I have lunch with my advisor before the semester starts, just to be nosy about what is going on in the department, and to see if there are any research opportunities. When I show up, she introduces me to her husband and tells me ‘this is an interview.’ Adrenaline floods my system. I don’t stop talking for the next 40 minutes. I have no idea what I said. I get the job, modelling monsoons. He had been to India taking data recently, and he needed to process some of the data. It’s a paying gig, and after being depressed and unemployed most of the summer, it is a godsend. I don’t know if I’ll be able to graduate with distinction, but this is a step in that direction.

I find fall housing. It is a place that has its problems, mostly alcohol and neglect related, but nothing I can’t handle. I can let my cats out, and compared to what I had to deal with crazy girlfriend, is remarkably peaceful. The day I settle on a place to stay, many of the stresses caused by being thrown out of my house for no fault of my own are put behind me.

I go to the pool a couple of times, but I do not display the gung-ho moxie that I did spring semester with regards to fitness.

Fall Semester 2012
Fall semester has been peaceful. My earliest class is at the crack of noon twice a week. It took a moment to adjust to working in an office. Then I realized I had an office on campus where I get to make my own hours, and that is great.

I sign up for some field trips to get out of town and, well, to take advantage of the fun things that the university offers.

The notable class has been Hydrogeology, where I got hooked up with an NGWA membership. Largely, my time has been devoted to research and schoolwork.

When I sign up for classes for Spring, I realize that I can graduate a semester earlier than anticipated, this upcoming spring. I start preparing for Summer 2013. I consider, among other things, delaying graduation till fall, signing up for a study abroad program and scholarships, acquiring children’s English materials, and buying a one way ticket to study abroad and see if I can’t break even teaching English overseas until grad school comes my way. Those kinds of deadlines are all around ~January 15th.

When I go back to the farm for Thanksgiving I take my Grandmother to her bridge club and play. We had a good time.

I roll around the idea for starting a new blog. I think keeping it somewhat fresh will be a fun project for next semester. I really do enjoy writing.

I have not worked out the entire semester of an incredibly taxing have-to-be-somewhere-by-noon schedule. I am ashamed.

p.s. I really need to stop telling people I value brevity…

NGWA Expo Prep!

I need to dispel a notion that I am desperate…

Occasionally I get asked by well meaning people what I want to do and it is a difficult question to answer.  I want to be a shameless opportunist.  I want to put out fires.  I want prepare for success but plan for failure.  When someone finds themselves inthis situation, I want to be this guy.  This is never the answer the person asking me is looking for so let me elaborate.
This week is devoted to preparation for the expo.  Booked passage and lodging on Monday, borrowed a carry-on from a friend, got another friend to design a logo for a business card.  I told him I wanted a snow leopard in a fedora, and he preformed admirably.  In compensation he requested two video game boss kills, which was a most equitable trade.  I think I am going to provide a recap of the trip here on the forum.  Judging from the responses I got from my first post, it appears that some of you would find it amusing.      

Career ‘Choices’
Modelling aquifers in Kansas or California is the same to me as looking at remediation in the Pacific Northwest is similar to teaching English in Japan is not too different from working on Geothermal projects in who knows where.  I am a liberal artist and an explorer and I don’t need a goddamn piece of paper from a college to tell me that, but I have spent the past year shrewdly attending an institution to acquire a skill that I can ply in the marketplace, and that is learning how water flows.  I’ve modeled monsoons, I’ve looked at how water makes stream channels, and I’ve learned some basics about groundwater flows, all while getting an underlying mathematical basis for it all.  My degree is going to read BS, not BA.  I have done well at the stage of life I am at, and that is because I have set myself up for success at planned for failure.  I’ve done it with, and because of, preparation and integrity, and I have done my damnedest to make use of the plethora of University resources students have at their disposal.

As far as it goes, college has been really nice.  There is state of the art equipment to use.  You want to know about something?  There is probably someone nearby who is incredibly knowledgeable about the subject.  When I went back to college, the first thing I did was go to the doctor;  I was used to poor person health insurance where health care was a fifth or two of whiskey and a second hand bottle of Vicodin.  At college, the women are often attractive and occasionally flirty and booze flows like water at the local pub.  But its time to graduate, that part of my life is coming to a close, and apparently, unlike a couple of months ago, I now have skills that are marketable to potential employers.

Grad School
I want to go to grad school.  I want to go to grad school and be Teachers Assistant, but I don’t want to go to grad school as a Teachers Assistant, but rather as a Research Assistant and angle myself into a TA gig. I want to be a TA because I like the sound of my own voice and I will be happy leading a discussion section.  I also want to be a TA because I value brevity and clarity in writing, and I don’t see that being valued my instructors and instilled in my colleagues.  That is the state of education at big public U as big public U is losing more and more funding from a state in a huge budget deficit.  However I want to go in as an Research Assistant because giving that much heart as a TA to grading student’s work is not something I see myself being able to do for more than a semester or two at a time.  I think I would burn out, and the pay is not good enough.  Research is a more peaceful and I can put my head down and do quality work, which is also very rewarding, just in a different capacity.  All in all, with respect to Graduate School, I want to do well at the stage of life I am at, I want to set myself up for success, and plan for failure.  

What do I want to do? I want to keep doing what I am doing.  That has nothing to do with being at college or having a specific job title and everything to do with making shrewd decisions with preparation and forethought.  That has everything to do with seeking council from my elders and those with experiences I don’t have.  That has everything to do with staying curious; the New York Times and a local paper will still find their way into my home no matter where I am.  That has everything to do with setting up contingency plans and blast doors so that when the excrement hits the fan, I’m still here and I’m still standing.  

I want to thank everyone for their advice and support.  I’ll be attending the NGWA expo this year, and I am excited.

And I say I value brevity… Pah!


In the wake of superstorm Sandy this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated, “There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. It is not prudent to sit here, I believe, to sit here and say it’s not going to happen again… We have a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns, we have an old infrastructure and we have old systems, and that is not a good combination.” He added, “Protecting this state from costal flooding is a massive, massive undertaking,” and mentioned that he was about to speak to the president about getting disaster relief money for New York. This is the path to an energy policy that looks to control carbon emissions in this country. In this case, it is a city talking about a huge engineering project to grapple with climate change. That is a small victory to set the stage for a major policy push sometime in the future.

Assists won’t just come in the form of big government engineering expendatures for our nation’s premeir cities. The takeaway from the 2011 Governor’s Economic Summit on the Future of the Ogallala Aquifer was that “something needs to be done” and “locals need to have control,” when talking about unsustainable drawdown. This makes sense and is a natural contrast. The premiere American city is talking about working in partnership with federal government (read: $$$) taking engineering based approached to dealing with extreme weather and a changing climate, while the great plains is doing it’s damndest to take care of the problem in-house. Both of these steps set the stage for getting some form carbon reducing policy through the federal government in the future, which is the ultimate goal. But with the economy how it is, the fiscal cliff coming, and congress looking like it is gearing up for another session of deadlock, I don’t see that happening in the near future.

Large scale energy policy devoted to reducing our carbon footprint is a major coup. It is easier for that battle to be fought (and won!) when, in one’s travels, one looks along the highway and sees windmills slowly churning out their watts. It is easier to fight that battle, when one looks at our major cities and sees the engineering ‘massive undertakings’ to protect from the seas, rivers and storms. It is easier to fight when the Kansas farmer is carefully budgeting his water use; the rain’s don’t come as often as they used to. When the home/business owner looks at his insurance rates go up significantly due to recent flooding events, then climate change stops becoming a game of clever policy ideas and political footballs and just becoming another part of the terrain.

Last year, we didn’t have a winter here in central Illinois, at least as my family has ever known winter. My father, a farmer and climate change skeptic circa 2005, mentioned to me he thought it was “just eerie.” Mother Nature will make the major arguments for policy dealing with CO2 output better than any human can.

As far as cap and trade vs carbon tax? Whichever has the political will to get done has my support. ‘Til then, win the small victories.