Patricia Coorough-Burke; Featured Alumni
- Hometown/High School?
I grew up in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, a historic community at the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers.
- Where do you reside now?
I live in Milwaukee in the Washington Heights neighborhood, just west of Washington Park.
- What degree(s)did you obtain from UWM and when?
I have a B.S. in Biological Sciences, and a master’s degree in Geosciences. While at UWM, I also completed my teaching certification for high school and middle school science.
- What was your field of interest in Geology at UWM?
Because I had a background in Biology, I was drawn to Paleontology when I started the graduate program in Geology.
- What brought you to UWM to study Geosciences for your degree?
I followed my sisters to UWM, but landed in Geosciences by taking a paleontology seminar as an undergraduate.
- What did you enjoy most about the department, UWM, and Milwaukee?
I love living in an urban area with all of the cultural activities such as live theater and the festivals on the lakefront. In the 1980’s, Geosciences had a great group of paleontology graduate students all doing interesting projects and sharing their work. I remain in contact with many of them today.
- What is your current job (or field of study) and how would you describe it to one of our current students (e,g,m what do you do, how rewarding is it)?
I am the Geology Collections Manager at the Milwaukee Public Museum. My job includes caring for the geology collections and making our collections available to researchers. I also identify geologic specimens for the public, work with our education staff and assist our exhibition staff. We are currently making improvements to “Third Planet” exhibit. I have also written articles with my museum colleagues that have been published in our “Contributions” series as well as other scientific journals.
- Why did you choose this career?
I gained experience at the Milwaukee Public Museum as a graduate student and I loved the unique atmosphere involved in working at a museum. I learn something new every day.
- What's been your best experience in geology (or your career) so far?
The best experience has been the opportunity to work with Dr. Peter Sheehan, in his capacity as my faculty advisor at UWM and as the head of the Geology department at the museum. Dr. Sheehan’s research is focused on the community ecology and zoogeography of Ordovician and Silurian brachiopods, but he also made international news working with Luis and Walter Alvarez on the now accepted theory of dinosaur extinction.
- In your career, have you gotten the opportunity to travel or to work with people as part of your job?
The core of the museum experience is contact with the public, including school groups and other researchers. In terms of recent travel, Dr. Sheehan and I led a group last summer to the Great Basin area in Nevada and Utah.
- What trait or thing(s) that you learned while in Geosciences at UWM has allowed you to succeed in your career?
One of the things I took with me into the world from my time in Geosciences was an excitement about learning. Geosciences brings together so many disciplines that collaboration occurs readily. The single most important trait ingrained in me from my education at UWM is to always be open to new ideas.
- Do you have any advice that you would give to our current students about their education or in selecting a career once they graduate?
I think you need to follow your interests in selecting classes and in eventually choosing a career. Don’t narrow your focus too soon and don’t choose a particular field in geology just for the employment opportunities. Consult with your faculty adviser and other professors often for their advice and counsel.
- What is/was the hardest thing that you had to do in your career?
I think the most challenging part of my career was balancing work and family while our children were growing up. I came back to work part-time after our youngest daughter was born. By the way, I am proud that two of my daughters interned at the museum, one in botany and one in geology, while they were in high school.