When I was a kid growing up in the '80s, I was intrigued by the Weather Channel, so I convinced my mother to purchase a rain gauge and other basic meteorological equipment. In my later elementary school years, I contributed to the local weather station. I always enjoyed science, but never knew exactly what I wanted to do. So, for college, I attended Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) where I had planned on taking some classes and then maybe transferring to Florida State to continue meteorology. But while at EKU, I encountered a very animated scientist by the name of Dr. Ralph Ewers, who had the tendency to jump on tables and do the “molecular dance.” After taking his oceanography and geomorphology classes and thinking that if he’s this excited about geology, it must be a pretty cool major. So I changed my major to Geology. After completing my BS, I didn’t immediately find a permanent job, so I went back to graduate school at EKU. My MS thesis was on the reliability of monitoring wells in karst and interpreting water dynamics in central-Kentucky geology using dye tracing (which was achieved through an EPA grant).
My first temporary job in this field involved pumping 10,000 gallons of Fluorescence dye out of wells at Ft. Campbell Military Base because injected dye (from a previous study) did not travel as expected to the nearby farm. The goal was to identify where the jet fuel had gone. I later worked on another dye trace in western Kentucky associated with a creosote spill in Guthrie, Kentucky. This time, we took canoes and boats down the river to collect the charcoal dye receptors. In short, these were fun jobs.
My first "real" job out of college (2005) entailed working as an environmental geologist project manager overseeing the remediation of petroleum spills. During my six years in state government, I became interested in public policy, which led to the completion of a graduate certification in management and public policy from Kentucky State University (2009).
In 2012, I made a decision to go back to school for a PhD. I worked the first year as a Visiting Research Scientist at The Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER), a research arm of the University of Kentucky focused on energy issues, before acquiring a teaching assistantship the final two years. While at CAER, I became interested in a relatively new research area, coal fires. I finished in 2015 under the direction of Dr. James Hower with a dissertation titled, "The Environmental Effects of Coal Fires." The focus of this study was air, water, and soil quality near coal fires in eastern Kentucky and around the world, with emphasis on polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This allowed me to combine my new interest of coal fires with my background in water and environmental geology.
One of my passions is teaching. I started as an adjunct at Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) in 2006 (as a second job), became an adjunct at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) in 2009, and visiting faculty in 2015 while finishing my PhD. While at EKU, I advised two senior theses on groundwater flow in central-Kentucky karst, and was very proud to find out they won 1st place at the Kentucky Academy of Science. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to teach many classes, such as Introductory Geology, Hydrology, Earth Science for Teachers, Geology for Engineers, Environmental Geology, Earth History, Field Excursions, and Senior Theses, as well as leading field trips to karst areas such as Mammoth Cave.
Outside of teaching, passions of mine are outreach and geopolitics. In class, discussing current topics is very important to me and it's a good way to keep students interested. But even beyond that, it is imperative that we as scientists are involved in geoscience outreach and policy at all levels. As former president of the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) Kentucky Section, and executive committee member of other geoscience organizations, I have been actively involved in outreach for years. I feel that it's important for students, academics, and professional geologists to appreciate the importance of networking. I am involved in these outreach efforts because I think we should do our best at helping students after college, as well as communicating scientific research, not just esoterically at professional meetings, but to the general public.