Jumping the Career Shark to GER

Vic Ricchezza, University of South Florida

I graduated with my geology BA in 1999. I followed this with a nine year career as an environmental consultant. What started as a need for a job eventually turned into an opportunity for a good living. Motivation was from need for money rather than love of the work. Once I settled down to have a family, became a high school science teacher. In this second career – where I taught Earth Systems and AP Environmental Science – I found a new passion and, finally, a real passion for my work. Unfortunately, I also found students that had no quantitative skills and a pile of bureaucracy and questionable administrative decisions blocking my path, causing me to question my career again.

Researching the idea of teaching elsewhere, I found that I'd likely need a graduate degree, and would respect none for myself but in geology. I decided I'd rather teach college than return to secondary education. I set about finding a program that would fit an area of geology that appealed to me. I found the University of South Florida, School of Geosciences, where they are fostering work in a new Geoscience Education Research (GER) program. I was fascinated by the concept of combining my careers thus far; that is, of becoming an expert geologist and educator who does research on the best practices in undergraduate geoscience education and implementing those practices to produce superior graduates to meet the needs of the field.

In joining this program, I found a sub-specialty in Quantitative Literacy (QL) within GER. My master's thesis (in publication, defended 6-8-16), "Alumni Narratives on Computational Geology (Spring 1997 – Fall 2013)", involved a series of interviews with USF geology alumni who took the computational geology course here and discussed their course experiences, how the course helped them in their personal and professional lives, and what they'd like to see geology students learning in the course today. While many interesting responses were given in these interviews, the most profound were one that spurred what I want to do next for my dissertation work and beyond. I want to shape the responses they gave me, along with information from other meetings and studies (e.g., the Summit on the Future on Undergraduate Geoscience Education) to conduct a national survey regarding how undergraduate programs prepare students for their careers, especially in matters of QL. I am also interested in learning about how diversity is better served through our field, especially for women, as this topic came up in the thesis interviews as well.

My future plans are to complete my dissertation within three years and find a postdoctoral GER fellowship before working as tenure-track faculty at a high activity research university.

If I could speak to my younger self, I'd encourage him to take school and life more seriously and learn how to work hard without the threat of lost work or money. There are few chances in life to make a real difference, so don't pass them up so easily and for so little.