Rob Graziano; Featured Alumni
As a member of the academic staff at UWM, I currently work for the same Department that taught me geology! So, now I am trying to impart my love of geology and the Earth on to the ‘next generation’ of UWM geologists, as I work alongside some of the people I used to call professor! After 13 years in the consulting industry, I credit ‘fate’, Norm Lasca, Doug Cherkauer and Daniel Feinstein for this welcome and rewarding switch to academia. As a member of the academic staff for the last 9 years, I ‘wear lot of hats’ for the Dept., but my official title is Instructional Lab Manager, which means I teach, support teaching, write curriculum, supervise TAs, manage some department facilities, and routinely assist undergrads, grads, administration and faculty alike. Personally, I am married now for more than two years, after being widowed in 2001. I have a 14-yr old son and 16-yr old daughter (at Muskego HS), a 23-year old stepson at UWM, and a 25-yr old stepdaughter, married, living in New Richmond, WI, with a 1-yr old daughter - so yes, I get to be a grandpa now, too! Through life changes, and career changes, I am very glad to call UWM ‘home’ for so many years!
- Hometown/High School?
Greenfield, WI / Whitnall High School
- Where do you reside now?
- What degree(s)did you obtain from UWM and when?
BS - Geology ’86, MS - Geology ‘93
- What was your field of interest in Geology at UWM?
In my MS program, I pursued engineering geology and petroleum geophysics, but picked up a hydrogeology background as well. Now, after years in hydrogeology and environmental work, my focus has turned to geoscience education.
- What brought you to UWM to study Geosciences for your degree?
I was a typical undecided high school student, unsure of what college to go to, so I chose UWM because it was the ‘convenient commuter school’ back in 1981. Having an interest in science, I tried several courses in other sciences until I stumbled upon geology in my 3rd year. After two years of (major) geology courses, I went on UWM’s field camp in 1985 with Drs. Paull & Paull and Dr. Cherkauer to Wyoming and Idaho, and I was hooked! I entered the MS program in 1987 because of the known commodity of a quality program and faculty (and yes again, the convenience).
- What did you enjoy most about the department, UWM, and Milwaukee?
I enjoyed many things while studying geology at UWM, most memorably, the field trips and the people! Field camp was clearly the single most memorable event, but it was all those friends and contacts I made along the way that probably impacted me the most, and were largely responsible for my return to UWM. As for the city, I’ve lived my whole life in Wisconsin, so you can guess that the things I love about this area are our world champ Packers, and the Brewers (especially this year!), but if we’re talking actual things in Milwaukee, nothing beats the lakefront and the summer festivals. Milwaukee is one of those moderate-size cites that is easy to get around in, yet has many great things to offer – and of course, good beer!
- What is your current job (or field of study) and how would you describe it to one of our current students (e.g. what do you do, how rewarding is it)?
In my position as the Instructional Lab Manager, I support the Department’s faculty, staff, grads and undergrads, as well as various activities of the College of Letters & Science and the University. The rewards of working in academia are certainly a flexible schedule, the ‘academic calendar’, and more field trips!, but also seeing students eyes open up (literally) to the world around them, or helping a student turn that ‘undecided major’ into a career in geology!
- Why did you choose this career?
I wish I had some cool story about a rock collection as a kid, and how it was destiny that I turned it into a career – but the only rocks I recall as a kid were those in the driveway, or the ones my brothers and I threw at each other! Life is strange! As a UWM student, I never could have imagined that I would someday be teaching, lecturing, developing curriculum, leading field trips and mentoring students here at UWM! My professional career started in private industry, in geotechnical consulting, as a civil engineering technician for 7 months after graduation and during grad school summers. After grad school, I worked in environmental consulting for 12 ½ years. My work experience in private industry was fast-paced and high-demand, but very educational. I certainly enhanced my geology and engineering background, but also my skills in the management and business side of geology. But as life changes, so do your career goals and priorities. The change to a career in academia was quite different, but very welcome. I could write at length about the advantages and drawbacks, but to save space here, I’ll just say that I am more than willing to talk to prospective geology majors about this ANYTIME! As many students already know, I am always willing to talk careers, or review resumes.
- What's been your best experience in geology (or your career) so far?
It’s difficult to say what has been my best experience so far because I always like to think that the ‘best is yet to come!’ I have had many great experiences, but the common thread among them all is the field experience. Some of my best days in consulting were those days when I would bushwhack or use a four-wheeler to find drilling access at a northern Wisconsin forested site, or don scuba gear for underwater inspections at a Lake Michigan shoreline site, or take road trips to Kentucky in winter for groundwater sampling. Similarly, some of the best days in academia were those days attending or leading field trips, and seeing students develop that same appreciation for travel and ‘our Earth’ that I have. That same enthusiasm actually carries over to family trips, as I’ve been able to share some of our great National Parks with my family (the kids will thank me later for turning vacations into adventures!)
- In your career, have you gotten the opportunity to travel or to work with people as part of your job?
In my consulting career, I’ve certainly traveled to many job sites, mostly throughout the Midwest, but let’s face it – some environmental cleanup sites are not exactly desirable trip destinations! However, my travels took me to projects in about 15 different states, and I was fortunate enough to work on many projects in northern Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, even Door County - so getting paid to go ‘up north’ was pretty memorable. As for UWM, my travels again mostly centered around field trips – either attending or leading them – most often within Wisconsin or Upper Michigan, but recently as far as Florida. I also traveled to Scotland a couple years ago, although I was trapped in a lab for most of the time!
- What trait or thing(s) that you learned while in Geosciences at UWM has allowed you to succeed in your career?
Communication (written and verbal) is probably the most important trait I would emphasize to students. If you can fit in a technical writing class and public speaking class, you will not regret it. Those two classes, along with Norm Lasca’s undergrad seminar course, were three of THE most important classes that helped me succeed in my career. You could be the best and brightest field geologist, but if you can’t adequately convey your findings and conclusions to the necessary audience, whether it is the scientific community, the public, a regulating agency, the owner, an attorney, your boss, etc., then your hard work is wasted! You might also consider a class in business, management or finance because at some point in your career, as much as you love to dig up rocks, you’re going to have to justify the cost-benefit relationship of your work.
- Do you have any advice that you would give to our current students about their education or in selecting a career once they graduate?
Stop by Lapham 342, students! I have lots of advice!! Here’s a sample: (1) Get involved - join the Geology Club, the Paleo Club, or heck, find three friends and start your own club! Inquire about undergraduate research, work on campus or for the Dept., apply for scholarships, volunteer,… Every line item you can add to your resume about how you were involved above and beyond your schoolwork increases your chances of employment later. (2) Get connected – with your instructors, staff and classmates (in and out of geology). Each connection you make sets you up better for being in the right place at the right time for that next opportunity. (3) Learn about more than rocks! …and learn about careers during your program, not after! Public vs. private sector; privately-owned vs. publicly-traded companies; large corporations vs. small companies; public vs. private universities; for-profit vs. not-for-profit organizations – learn the differences, so you are well-prepared before your first interview! (4) Enjoy what you do, but be willing to change! Take the enthusiasm you have now, pour it into your career, but realize that ‘life happens’ along the way, so always keep your options open to change. (5) Find your passion, have fun, live life, and keep family first!
- What is/was the hardest thing that you had to do in your career?
It’s all a matter of perspective!! The hardest thing I had to do in my career was not actually in my career, it was about putting my career on hold and functioning ‘as if my career mattered’ for a while. However, in my career, I’ve certainly had difficult times, like working long hours in lousy work environments, or defending my project’s expenses to an owner’s financial managers that regard you as ‘overhead’, or justifying my project at a heated public meeting,… but if I had to find one memorable example of a difficult thing in my career, it would have to be when I finished my thesis after three years on the job. My advice to grads is to do everything possible to finish that thesis before taking a job. It is certainly normal for the need for cash to replace that drive to finish that dreaded thesis, but I can tell you from experience that if you push it aside for three years like I did, you are in for many late nights, all-nighters, and lost weekends, all while holding down a full-time job.