Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of south-central Pennsylvania with a father that taught earth science, chemistry and physics, it isn’t surprising I developed a passion for science, and eventually geology. Like many kids, I was fascinated with dinosaurs and rocks, but my interest in science matured in high school when I took advanced courses in chemistry and physics. It was my junior year in high school when I concluded that I like all the sciences, so why not study geology and use all of them! I entered Lafayette College as a preliminary geology major and never looked back.

One of my most memorable experiences at Lafayette was my interim course in Hawaii where we studied the geologic evolution of the Hawaiian Islands. I had never seen an active volcano before, stepped foot on a black sand beach, hiked across a crater, or summited a 13,600-foot peak (Mauna Loa). It was an amazing learning experience and such a contrast from studying geology in the Northeast.

I attended Arizona State University’s geology field camp because I had never been out West and wanted to see the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, and Saguaro cactus. One of the course instructors, Paul Knauth, operated an isotope lab at ASU. After a number of conversations with him, I decided to attend graduate school at ASU after Lafayette and study isotope geochemistry – a perfect combination of geology, water and chemistry! ASU offered me a teaching assistantship (TA) and a chance to teach field camp the next year. I graduated from Lafayette in May 1993 and drove across the country to teach ASU’s field camp and to start my geology graduate degree (yes, I had to adjust to the heat).

While at ASU, I served as a TA for introductory geology classes and hydrogeology. My Master’s thesis was focused on stable isotope hydrology, which took me all over the state collecting water samples and studying how the stable isotopic composition of water changes through the hydrologic cycle. I graduated with my Master’s in two years and decided it was time to get a job and cease being a poor student. The Phoenix economy was booming in the mid-1990s and I was fortunate to have multiple job offers. I graduated, took a 7-day rafting trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and started my first job in the water industry as a consulting hydrogeologist for Montgomery Watson.

Fast forward 23 years, a move from Phoenix to Denver, marriage, 3 kids, an MBA degree, a variety of private- and public-sector jobs, and I’m now the President/CEO of Leonard Rice Engineers, a 40-person water resource engineering firm based in Denver, CO. Although I do less hands-on technical work nowadays, I still maintain my passion for geology and the application of geochemistry, geophysics, and other techniques to water supply development and management investigations. Living out West is great, and I’ve never regretted my choice to pursue a career in the water industry.

My advice to geology students and those in the geosciences:

  • Geology is a great field of study because there are so many different career path options (water, environmental, mining, O&G, research). Even if you don’t pursue a career in geology, having a technical degree is invaluable and can segue to other careers (engineering, business, etc.).
  • Get as much experience writing and presenting as possible. Technical skills are important, but your ability to effectively communicate, manage, and lead will become more important as you progress in your career.
  • Build and maintain a network. The old adage that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is still applicable. Maintain and nurture contacts, meet as many people as you can, build lasting relationships, and treat them like gold.
  • Take advantage of every opportunity to do research. Whether or not you go into a research-oriented field, conducting research builds project management and other valuable skills.
  • Be bold and take chances. Growth and comfort do not coexist. Take advantage of opportunities to move, lead, take on new challenges and responsibilities, solve problems that have no existing solution, and step outside your comfort zone. You may fail along the way, but that’s part of the ‘success iceberg’ and you’ll grow significantly from those experiences.