Zelenda Koch; Masters Student

Zelenda KochZelenda grew up locally, with an enthusiastic and avid interest in anything “outdoors.” She enjoys camping, fishing, archery, and triathlon training; thus the study of the “earth” was a natural fit for her. Zelenda became intrigued with research and studying glaciers as an undergraduate, and was able to do a research trip with Dr. John Isbell, who is now her advisor, and several other colleagues. Dr. Isbell’s work focused, in part, on an ancient glaciation, the late Paleozoic Ice Age (Carboniferous to Permian). On the trip, we were looking at the sedimentary deposits and were trying to reconstruct the environments associated with the glaciation, which began over 300 million years ago. Zelenda found this intriguing, and for her Masters Degree, was able to study strata from this ancient glaciation that were deposited in Antarctica. Her work and results are as she is finding that the glaciers associated with this glacial event were not as widespread as previously reported. Over time Zelenda has been author or co-author on nearly a dozen publications. She has also attended several regional and national conferences and workshops presenting her results. Her research and course work at UWM has taken her all over the United States and to the Bahamas. Due to Zelenda’s knowledge of field geology, she was recruited as a field hand by a colleague at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada to help in a study of the Cretaceous Alberta Foreland Basin. Zelenda has also accumulated a respectable background in hydrogeology through her coursework at UWM, and she worked as an environmental consultant for a year before deciding that she was more enthusiastic about teaching geology. Zelenda is currently finishing up her M.S. thesis and teaching a 100 level course for the Geosciences department. She is also looking to pursue a PhD so that she can continue teaching and conducting research. Below are Zelenda’s responses to a series of questions about her time in the Department of Geosciences at UWM.

  1. Hometown?
    I grew up locally, in Germantown WI, and wanted to stay close to my family and friends. Since I didn’t know what I wanted to get into, I chose UWM for the versatile programs they offer.
  2. Previous degrees (Degree and University)?
    I fell in love with geology after taking a “Backyard Soils” freshmen seminar at UW-Milwaukee. I obtained my Bachelor’s of Science in Geology here at UW-Milwaukee, knowing I would continue on here for my Masters.
  3. Expected graduation date?
    For my Masters (I have take the zig-zag course, but there is an end in sight!), I will graduate this spring/summer, 2010.
  4. What is your field of study and how would you describe it to a prospective graduate student?
    I am intrigued with glaciers and sedimentology, especially in the ancient. I have a fascination with glaciations and “ice” (both ancient and modern) and chose to work on Upper Paleozoic glacier-derived sedimentary rocks in Antarctica. My research reevaluates and examines the sedimentology of an earlier study of a succession of glacigenic rocks. This succession was first interpreted over 40 years ago and was interpreted as having formed on land (terrestrial glaciation) under a very large, continuous ice sheet. However, knowledge and understandings of modern glacial studies has improved our understandings of glaciers and their associated deposits, and recent findings suggest that this ancient glaciation was not as “large” as was previously assumed. My research reevaluates and restudies some of these glacier deposits, and focuses on identifying how the rocks formed and it reassess previous hypotheses on the glacial processes that occurred in this region. This will help to reconstruct depositional environments to distinguish whether terrestrial or subaqueous glacial conditions dominated. This study will hopefully be important to help determine how extensive glaciation during the late Paleozoic Ice Age really was in Antarctica.
  5. What brought you to UWM to study Geosciences for your graduate degree?
    I knew from the minute I finished Geology 100, the intro course here at UWM, I wanted to pursue geology. The reason was that my Geosicence 100 professor (Dr. Isbell, who is now my advisor!) revealed to our class his fascinating research that he was doing in Antarctica, including his research of ancient glaciations. This completely captivated me and drew me in. I went home that day and told my mom I wanted to do research in Antarctica! So to answer the question, it was the research and the professors that attracted me to STAY at UWM. As I continued on my pursuit towards my Masters, I knew I would make the right choice. I have yet to come across a more “unified” and “family-like” department than ours, with the amount of opportunities I have received. The professors are genuine and friendly, and their backgrounds and interests cover a comprehensive range of research topics.
  6. What's been your best experience so far?
    The department has given me so many wonderful opportunities; From coursework with local field work and examples, to courses that have taken me to the Appalachian Mountains or all the way to the Bahamas (see next question!), to teaching and “TAing”: I feel I have a solid background and that I have had an academically sturdy array of geoscience classes, not only in my own field of interest, but including a broad aspect in many fields. Of course, the “best experience” I have had was my travels and research in Antarctica on the ancient glaciation. I don’t know if anything in life can top that! The geology of Antarctica is incredible, and the opportunity is “once in a life time.” Traveling to Antarctica was like traveling to the moon!
  7. In graduate School, have you gotten the opportunity to travel as part of your education?
    I have had incredible opportunities to travel. These include: doing research excursions in Antarctica to Montana, class fieldtrips to the Bahamas and places like Utah, professional geologic seminars and meetings in Denver to local presentations here in Wisconsin. I feel very privileged to have had the amount of opportunities that I have encountered here at UWM. I have traveled all over the country for both research, classes, and for conferences that I have presented my research in. It is really up to you if you want to travel or to stay local, you can do it all!
  8. What trait or thing has allowed you to succeed in graduate school?
    Persistence and Belief. If you have belief that you can do something, and the perseverance to back it up, what can stop you? Believe in yourself and drive forward to what you want! Nothing will stop your success.
  9. Do you have any advice that you would give to a new graduate student in your program?
    My advice would stem off my own mistakes, which are many! But the best advice is learn from your mistakes and move on. Don’t give up and don’t go backwards! If you encounter a tough time or a rough spot in the road, learn to “drive around” that spot and keep yourself motivated. If you are a new grad student, don’t feel overwhelmed. There will be many times when your patience and ability to handle the workload may feel tested, but with everything there will be cycles and rewards!
  10. What has been the hardest part about being a graduate student (Is there anything that you've had to "give up" as a graduate student)?
    To be honest, I don’t believe in “giving any true loves” up for another “true love”! Moderation is the key. Yes, you may not have as much free time, but if you are doing what you love, then there is nothing “hard” about it! You learn to compensate, and moderate what you may enjoy. I believe you should not give up the things you love; those things keep you “sane!”
  11. What are your plans after you graduate?
    I have learned that I truly love teaching. I would like to continue on for a PhD in Geosciences with an emphasis in glaciation (perhaps the modern!), and eventually I would like to teach. I have learned I enjoy teaching during the time I’ve been teaching here at UWM. I become very enthusiastic and love finding new ways to “get the ideas” into the students’ sense of understanding!
  12. How would you describe the Department of Geosciences at UWM to a prospective student?
    As I had described earlier, the Department of Geosciences at UWM is one of the most down-to earth, family-like departments I know of. Everyone gets along, helps each other out, and helps guide each other in times of need. It is fun: The students organize lots of programs/events/social gatherings if you are interested in meeting other people. The department staff is not only supportive and friendly, but very helpful and cheerful! As for the professors you will encounter, though I may be biased, they are all unique in their different research areas, but all work together to offer both a broad basis of geology all the way down to the exclusive research you are interested in. Best of all, they support YOU and are always there for guidance! You never feel like a “student in the way of their research”, you feel like a “part of their research.”
  13. What has been your favorite activity while you’ve been in Graduate School in Milwaukee?
    My favorite activities in grad school are plenty, but include the opportunities to teach geosciences, the opportunities to travel, and most of all, the ability to work on my Masters without giving up my favorite activities “outside” of department life!
  14. What do you most enjoy about Milwaukee?
    I have lived in this region my whole life, but being able to travel and compare Milwaukee to other places, Milwaukee is unique in that it is very friendly and there is always something to do. I like it most because I am not a “city dweller” and I can escape the “city” life in a matter of minutes. Milwaukee is a city in the farmlands!

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