Joel Grimm; Featured Alumni
- Hometown/High School?
I grew up in Glendale, Wisconsin
- Where do you reside now?
I now live with my family in Derwood, Maryland. This is in northwest suburban Washington DC.
- What degree(s)did you obtain from UWM and when?
I earned my BS in Geology at UWM in 1980.
- What was your field of interest in Geology at UWM?
I had no specialty in my BS program. However, I especially enjoyed Environmental Geology, Field Studies, and Geomorphlogy. I thought maybe I would go on to study glacial terrains. Eventually, I completed my Master’s Degree in Quaternary Geology at the University of New Mexico.
- What brought you to UWM to study Geosciences for your degree?
Frankly, I was clueless about what it took to get into college when I was 17, and followed in the footsteps of my older siblings. I knew I was interested in Earth Sciences after having a great science teacher, Alden Larsen, at Nicolet High School. I thank my dad and the Nicolet guidance counselors for providing the impetus to make plans and get the applications in on time.
- What did you enjoy most about the department, UWM, and Milwaukee?
Seven weeks of geology Field Camp in Wyoming and Idaho are amongst my fondest memories. We were immersed 24/7 in observation, interpretation, and the great outdoors. Lots of learning, lots of hard work, and lots of camaraderie and good times.
UWM is a fine example of a large urban university that might be less known, but quietly and competently prepares thousands of people for productive careers. Milwaukee is my hometown – I will always look back on it fondly and visit family there as often as I can.
- 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)?
Most students should understand early on that their college degree could lead to unpredictable and unforeseen career paths. I currently am a federal program manager for nuclear and stable isotopes provided for research, medicine, and industry at the U.S. Department of Energy. My first career job was at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I worked on developing geological and environmental criteria for selecting radioactive waste disposal sites. I also wrote uranium mine operating licenses, oversaw ground–water cleanup, and conducted compliance inspections at uranium mines. This led me to the Department of Energy, where most of my 19 years has been spent dealing with radioactive waste management at Los Alamos National Laboratory, collecting thousands of excess radioactive sealed sources, and dealing with disposition for other nuclear materials remaining from the government’s nuclear programs.
- Why did you choose this career?
I guess you could say it chose me. When I completed my Masters Degree in 1985, the domestic petroleum and mining industries were in considerable economic decline. Campus recruiter visits went from 10 or 20 firms per year down to one or two. On the other hand, government environmental protection programs were just getting on their legs based upon legislation passed in the 1970s. Therefore, government agencies, consulting firms, and engineering contractors were hiring lots of geologist and engineers for these new disciplines called “waste management” and “environmental restoration.”
In 1985, I finished my Master’s thesis, looking at Quaternary history and landscape stability near Mt. Taylor, New Mexico. It was not a coincidence that this area is heavily developed for coal mining, and also once produced two-thirds of the U.S. supply of uranium. There was a great deal of interest at the time in develop methods to assure landscape stability at reclaimed mines and mill tailings piles. So, I submitted an application to the NRC at a Sigma Xi job fair, and the rest is history.
In the mean time, I got through school with part-time jobs that were a natural fit. I taught Geology 101 and 102 classroom sessions in graduate school. I drew prospect maps for an oil company (back when we actually used pens and ink to make maps!). I also was lucky enough to get a little experience mud-logging wells while they were being drilled and overseeing seismic exploration field work.
- What's been your best experience in geology (or your career) so far?
I love going to my kids’ school with my box of rocks, minerals, and fossils. All you have to do is talk about them. The kids can’t get enough! Geology studies can also take you to desolate and beautiful places. My favorite memory of this kind is Wildhorse Creek, south central Idaho. You have not seen stars until you visit here on a moonless night. On the flip side, mapping ancient playa-lake shorelines near Baker, California, was also surreal. We started each day at 4:30 a.m. so we could quit when the temperature reached 115 degrees.
- In your career, have you gotten the opportunity to travel or to work with people as part of your job?
After growing up in Wisconsin, I have lived in New Mexico, Maryland, and Colorado. Geology field work, business meetings, and other travel have taken me travelling to approximately 35 states. My government work has also included meetings, conferences, and projects in Austria, France, Malta, Israel, and South Africa.
- What trait or thing(s) that you would give to our current students about their education or in selecting a career?
Do what you love, and do it competently. Work will always find you.
- Do you have any advice that you would give to our current students about their education or in selecting a career once they graduate?
First, don’t specialize too early. Take a variety of electives that cover a range of topics. Also, if you decide to get an advanced degree; move. Get a broad education at more than one university. Second, do not expect a highly lucrative job offer starting out your career. Be prepared and willing to start on the bottom rung of the ladder. Finally, be prepared to relocate to a new city, especially one you might not have considered and may not be most favorable to you. You have a long life and career ahead of you, with lots of opportunities to learn new things and develop long-term plans.
- What is/was the hardest thing that you had to do in your career?
Businesses transfer employees and close offices from time to time. More importantly, scientists are not employable just anywhere, and the hurdles get higher as one specializes. To minimize the impact of these barriers and changes it is important to keep an open mind and be flexible. Make sure you have an updated resume at all times. Be willing to accept change and do new things. I don’t have rocks and maps on my desk, or do field work every summer any more. However, my UWM B.S. in geosciences has led to a rewarding, varied, and productive career.