Mike DeVastoMike DeVasto; Masters Student

I’m here “all the way” from New York. I often find myself in situations which later I may retell in a more interesting, flagrant, and often ridiculous fashion –but usually it’s how I view the said situation. I sometimes get so excited about geology I may express this excitement in the form of “Yes!”, “Noo way!”, “Get outta town!”, or “Whoa, whoa, whoa hold on a minute”. I would like to take this opportunity to assure you these are almost uncontrollable and not sarcastic in any way shape or form.

I got accepted (funny story behind this actually…) to SUNY Oneonta, that is State University of New York at Oneonta for my undergraduate degree. I spent 4 years there doing whatever I could get my hands on, geochemistry/petrology, geophysics, glaciology, sedimentary, GIS, and some software applications for GPR and EMS. I’ve presented some posters are GSA about these various projects. I did track for all 4 years, throwing shot put and hammer (ball on a wire). I got better as the years past to eventually place first in my conference (all the SUNY schools) in shot put and 3rd in weight/hammer. I was named the SUNY Athletic conference field athlete for that season.

I’ve had this reoccurring conversation with teachers/professors about “bringing it to the next level” and by the simple statement “there is no point in not applying for grad school”, I decided that’s what I would do. So, I applied to a bunch of different schools and the process was painful. It took a lot of me to stick through it all. I got really lucky (which is a reoccurring theme in my life) because Dr. Czeck emailed two of my professors, who are former collogues of hers, looking for potential grad students. Well, it seems that I must have impressed my professors for some reason because I ended up here!

My degree is in (going to be in?) structural geology and my program is based currently on the study of deformation by applying two unlikely candidates; GIS (geographic information systems/science) and geochemistry. I currently have received funding from the Precambrian Research Center and the Geological Society of America.

  1. Hometown?
    I grew up in a real small town outside of New York City, Hastings-on-Hudson but I became a geologist in Oneonta, New York.
  2. Previous degrees (Degree and University)?
    B.S in geology from SUNY Oneonta
  3. Expected graduation date?
    Spring 2011
  4. What is your field of study and how would you describe it to a prospective graduate student?
    My field of study is Structural geology, and it would really depend on what the graduate student was studying. If they were a non-structural geologist I would say: I study the geometric relations of rock bodies to try and determine how they represent the past tectonic conditions of an area or the “how and why” the rocks appear the way they do today. By using a lot of neat tricks and some cool relationships we can pretty much figure out the configurations of rock bodies before they underwent extensive deformation.

    More specifically, I’m interested in the microtextural evolutions in shear zones, where a rock is deformed in a highly localized fashion but all in a cohesive manner, meaning nothing was breaking during deformation. The microscopic features will change as we move across these localized zones from the relatively undeformed rock through the most intense deformation. My thesis is attempting to quantify these specific changes across a shear zone.

  5. What brought you to UWM to study Geosciences for your graduate degree?
    If it were not Dr. Czeck’s previous work with two of my former professors in undergraduate school I doubt I would have ended up in graduate school. So I could say the great people, the cool feel of Milwaukee, and the tight knit department here at UWM (which is all true!), but really it was dumb luck and some hard work when I didn’t even know it counted.
  6. What's been your best experience so far?
    Taking a trip up to Baraboo with the Geo 100 class in the fall was really sweet, it was a perfect day. We saw some pretty wicked geology, vertical cross beds, folded quartzites, found mystery minerals, and ate brats –doesn’t get more geology than that.
  7. In graduate School, have you gotten the opportunity to travel as part of your education?
    This past summer I spent some time hiking in the wilderness of Nova Scotia with Jolene Traut and Dr. Czeck. We managed to find some outcrop, but between the car and the rock there were some really beautiful hikes through pristine forest, really a great experience –right out of lord of the rings kind of forest. I’ve been up to Mountain, Wisconsin (my research area) also, which may not sound too exciting, but is a rare chance to view some deformed precambrian bedrock. I’ve done my fair share of work in other areas prior to coming here including the Bering Glacier Alaska, Hawaii, Casco bay, Maine, geologic tour through Massachusetts up to Cape Cod, New Hampshire, and Florida (to get SCUBA certified).
  8. What trait or thing has allowed you to succeed in graduate school?

    “There are some people in this world that are so incredible at what they do, we seek to be like them, and in response they inspire us. Moreover, there are some people in this world that are so awful at what they do we strive to be better, and in response they inspire us”. If we read between the lines here we can find a lot of what drives us, and I believe it has a lot to do with why I do what I do.

    I’ve learned that, if the experience is negative or positive there is a small chance you can take something away from it –and maybe if you are really genuine about it, you may even be able to learn from it. I believe I’ve been able to take a lot of different experiences good or bad and learn from them. I stick to my motto.

  9. Do you have any advice that you would give to a new graduate student in your program?

    I believe Lindsay Henry wrote “Have a sense of humor” and “take advantage of the stimulating academic environment”. That’s definitely some of the best advice anyone can give. If you can’t laugh it off when something goes wrong, you’re most likely going to get frustrated and make the 36th mistake instead of figuring out what’s wrong. Keep laughing and enjoy what you’re doing, don’t be here for the wrong reasons. The academic environment that is around us is a unique place to be. There aren’t too many places in the world you can have a geological question and have over 10 PhD’s to help you pursue that question further. However, it is also important to learn from your peers and take advantage of their availability; it doesn’t hurt to ask questions about what somebody is doing.

    But if I may, a shout out to the undergraduates: get to know your professors, and in my opinion you are lucky to have such friendly and approachable graduate students –take advantage of that fact! I never had any grad students where I was, so all I was exposed to were the PhD’s teaching, and not the leg work that goes behind getting to where they are today. Lastly, I would never have gotten here if I didn’t have an excellent reputation with my professors, how can a professor write a genuine recommendation for you if they barely know you or are not familiar with what you do?

  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)?
    Time -I gave up a lot of that. In particular, I would have liked to join a track and field club team so I could continue to throw shot put and hammer, but there is such a large trade off between doing the things that are good and doing the things that are good in the long term; the payoff is going to be huge.
  11. What are your plans after you graduate?
    I have two goals for after I graduate; a short term goal and a long term goal. After I graduate I would like to find a job doing some type of exploration, be it mineral or petroleum working as a geologist. I’ve worked blue collar jobs my entire life, and working in mining, using my geologic skills but still being on a job site potentially seems to be a good fit. Over the long term I’d like to pursue my PhD by either furthering my studies in structural geology on shear zones, exploration/economic geology, or take my knowledge of structure and apply it to glacial deformation mechanisms either in the ice or under it. By receiving a PhD I’d be able to gain professorship at a teaching institution, similar to one I attended in undergrad. I have been lead (and now continue to be lead) by a group of professors that have inspired me to “owe up” to what they do and become one myself (see quote above). Finally, I believe by working in industry prior to this would enhance my research and teaching responsibilities by providing real world examples that are not just limited by a pure academic stand point.
  12. How would you describe the Department of Geosciences at UWM to a prospective student?
    If you ask a question to a professor and they cannot answer your question, they will not hesitate to refer you to a professor that may be able to answer said question. If you approach the second professor with said question, they are more than happy to help and in most cases downright interested in what you have to say (or happy to pull away from other duties?).
  13. What has been your favorite activity while you’ve been in Graduate School in Milwaukee?
    I get really excited about teaching. It’s something I’ve always done on a smaller scale; I’ve tutored through high school and college. Being given the opportunity to help somebody appreciate something, especially things like rocks and fossils, is worth any effort you can put into it. These are experiences we can learn a lot from.
  14. What do you most enjoy about Milwaukee?
    I enjoy the wide selection of places to go see, eat, drink, and soak in the tradition of a city built on hard work and history. This city has a feel different from a lot of the cities I have been through (quite a few) and just being a part of it is really exciting. But I must say, I cannot complain with the expansive selection of delicious brews that are available (I have a picky palate for beer).

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