James Kostenko; Featured Alumni
I am currently the Science Department Chairman at Marquette University High School This is my 30th year teaching science at Marquette. I enjoy hiking and fishing and typically spend 2-3 weeks in the Rockies each summer, my favorite destination, Glacier National Park. I am married to a fellow teacher, Janice Kofler and have two stepsons, Tom, 26, currently living in Amman, Jordan and Steve, 23, a recent UWM grad.
- Hometown/High School?
Greendale, WI/Greendale High School
- Where do you reside now?
- What degree(s)did you obtain from UWM and when?
B.S., 1980 and M.S., 1982
- What was your field of interest in Geology at UWM?
My field of interest as a graduate student was solution geochemistry and I worked at Great Lakes Research Facility under the guidance of Val Klump and Bruce Brown
- What brought you to UWM to study Geosciences for your degree?
I began as a premed student and UWM’s strong science program appealed to me. As a sophomore, I took Introduction to Physical Geology. The class appealed to me because as a high school student I spent a good portion of my summers in Montana with a friend and his family. During these visits I fell in love with the Western culture and the Rockies. I saw geology as an area of study that would answer so many of the questions I had concerning this alpine environment. I remember as if it was a few years ago, sitting down with Katherine Nelson in her office in June 1977. She was so kind and patient with my questions and after our meeting I decided I had found a home in the Geosciences Department at UWM.
- What did you enjoy most about the department, UWM, and Milwaukee?
I most enjoyed the small family-like nature of the department back in the 1970s. We often studied and relaxed as a group (The Gasthaus). The profs challenged us to academically excel but also cared about our individual well-being. I am sure I’m forgetting some names but I have very fond memories of Katherine Nelson, Bruce Brown, Gregory Mursky, Doug Cherkauer, Bill Kean, and RAP and Rachel Paull. During tough times in my life, I have often relied on the academic and life lessons these great educators embedded in me.
- 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 currently teach college level courses in physical geology, environmental science and chemistry at Marquette University High School. MUHS is a Jesuit college preparatory school in Milwaukee and was established over 150 years ago. I started teaching at Marquette in 1983. At that time, Marquette’s science curriculum did not include geology or environmental science. I am especially proud of my role in curricular development and the subsequent addition of these two courses. We currently have approximately 170 students enrolled in these college level courses. It is very rewarding to hear of students’ academic successes in college. It is especially gratifying when students select geology or environmental science as majors. I most often rise in the morning, enthused to engage my students in a variety of topics that I hope will move them to a greater appreciation for the world around them. Recently, one of my former students donated a sizable gift to assure that the budgetary requirements for geology and the environmental sciences would be met for years to come.
- Why did you choose this career?
I chose a career in geosciences because of my love of the outdoors and a desire to better understand and appreciate the dynamics of my surroundings. The desire to teach began as a TA at UWM. I taught mineralogy and petrology labs and really enjoyed sharing my knowledge with undergrads, and working with Bruce Brown and Gregory Mursky. I realized I had a talent for teaching when voted TA of the year my second year of grad school. After graduate school I spent a year working for Exxon in Houston, Texas, but couldn’t ignore the call of teaching. I accepted a position at MUHS in 1983, initially teaching physics and chemistry and I have never looked back. From time to time, I have also done some environmental consulting.
- What's been your best experience in geology (or your career) so far?
My best experiences have been field experiences, as a student, with my students, and as a field geologist. Mursky’s petrology, Pincus’s structural, RAP’s field camp, and GSA conventions are all priceless memories. Between undergraduate and graduate school, I worked as a USGS geologist. I was part of the early Yucca Mountain survey crews on the Nevada Test Site. Now I enjoy leading student and faculty trips in Wisconsin, Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park.
- In your career, have you gotten the opportunity to travel or to work with people as part of your job?
As a USGS geologist, in addition to the NTS work, I participated in geophysical surveys of Canyonlands National Park. As a petroleum geologist for Exxon, I worked the North Alaska Project and traveled to the Prudhoe Bay area. I frequently attend the national GSA conventions.
- What trait or thing(s) that you learned while in Geosciences at UWM has allowed you to succeed in your career?
As an undergraduate and graduate student, I developed speaking, presentation and technical writing skills. My bookcase currently holds Norm Lasca’s undergraduate seminar binder. I often tell my students that they may be the deepest thinkers, with the best of solutions, but unless they can clearly communicate their ideas, their professional success will be minimal. I preach, “minimize social media “and “maximize face-to-face discussion” when developing personal and professional relationships. On a very personal level, RAP’s field camp experience enabled me to succeed, not just as a career professional, but also as a friend, family member, husband and father. That summer trip, and RAP and Rachel’s educational philosophy, required me to tap an inner self and awareness that has served me countless times in my life. I am so very thankful my path crossed and then was steered by so many good people involved in the UWM Geosciences.
- Do you have any advice that you would give to our current students about their education or in selecting a career once they graduate?
My advice to students is to enjoy your educational journey. Life has a way of getting busier with age. Actively engage and have fun with your fellow students and profs, share and challenge ideas, and enjoy the process. The search for truth is more precious than its possession or the money you might make in its pursuit.
- What is/was the hardest thing that you had to do in your career?
I have one small regret and that was my decision to leave the USGS and my temporary full-time status. I worked during the twilight of the survey’s golden age. The survey was still doing quite a bit of fieldwork. Embrace adventure as a young geologist before life’s entanglements take a bit of the sheen off travel.