Testing the Waters
As a professional hydrogeologist with a tight schedule, Douglas Geller was limited in his graduate school options. He had the desire to pursue a graduate degree, but finding time to commute to the classroom, attend lectures, commute home and complete projects was not realistic.
“I had always wanted to pursue a graduate degree in hydrogeology but lacked the time to go back to school full-time,” said Geller. “About that time, I became aware of increasing opportunities in distance education and began searching for possibilities. My search on the internet eventually led me to ESU and the physical science department — specifically Professor Marcia Schulmeister. At that time, I think ESU had the best distance education offerings in the earth sciences, and one of the very few with hydrogeology options as far as North American universities were concerned.”
Geller’s interest in hydrogeology had developed over the course of several years. In fact, it was not his initial interest as an undergraduate.
“Back when I was getting my bachelor’s degree at the University of Colorado, I had originally thought I was going to be a geologist working in oil and gas or minerals,” he said. “I fancied myself working in the field all the time, in remote areas, being dropped off by a helicopter or perhaps staying in a remote camp and doing geologic mapping somewhere in the American West or perhaps Alaska and the Yukon. I had friends who did this and told tales of encounters with grizzly bears, catching five-pound Salmon in streams, beautiful mountain scenery, even projects that took them to South America, and it all sounded very romantic and exciting.”
Unable to land his dream job, Geller entered his first round of graduate study in traditional geology. He followed university friends into the environmental/groundwater field.
“After 6 years of studying geology and one year working for the US Geological Survey in Denver, I took a job working full-time out in the field being the geologist onsite while drilling groundwater monitoring wells at landfills and working on the test pumping of water supply wells. I rather enjoyed the work, and one thing led to another and as time passed, I kind of forgot all about becoming a ‘real’ geologist and instead started to focus on groundwater. This was back at a time of explosive growth in the groundwater consulting industry due to new regulations, and so there were many opportunities in that field compared to work in minerals, which at the time, was at a low point.”
Geller began his graduate career with Emporia State University while in his 40s, juggling a family and career, by enrolling in a single class.
“I tested the waters of distance education by taking one course in hydrogeology taught by Dr. Schulmeister. At the time, I was also working full-time and raising two boys under the age of 10. The course went well, I kept things together at home and at work and decided to apply to the MS program,” he said.
The M.S. program in physical sciences allowed Geller to enroll in the concentration of earth science, and this concentration is able to be completed entirely online, which is just what he needed.
“Our program is special, in that traditional on-campus and online students co-enroll in hybrid online/face-to-face courses that allow for interaction between students from all over the world. Many of our online students use the M.S. degree to advance in their careers, prepare for the professional geologist license exam or enhance their teaching credentials,” explained Schulmeister.
Geller’s interest was in management of groundwater resources, and this program gave him a greater understanding of the topic while earning a master’s degree.
“Although established in my career, a graduate degree is definitely a boost to anyone working in my field and before it was too late — whenever that is — I went for it,” he said.
Through his coursework, Geller became connected with his faculty members and was soon asked to act as a virtual teaching assistant.
“Doug entered our program with extensive experience in water resources management and did an excellent job in my introductory hydrogeology course. Given his insight on certain practical aspects of groundwater science, my department chair allowed me the flexibility of hiring him as an Online “Virtual” Teaching Assistant for the hydrogeology course. He did a nice job of sharing his work-related insight when grading homework submitted by students with varied backgrounds and career goals,” said Dr. Schulmeister.
Geller found success through this venture, as well as the coursework, but it was not for the faint of heart. He was committed, though, and maximized his time to accomplish it all. Not only did he complete the program with flying colors, but he took every opportunity to make the most of the experience, finding time to visit the Emporia, Kansas, campus not once, but twice.
“The hardest part was always the time commitment and juggling the competing demands on my time. When the time came to write my thesis, I holed up for the better part of a winter and got it done,” Geller said. “Although virtually all my graduate work was conducted by distance learning (including my oral thesis defense), visiting ESU in person made the experience complete.”
Although a challenge, Geller’s hard work paid off. He completed the program not only with a degree, but with numerous new connections and with preparation for an adjustment to his career.
“In the years since completing my degree, my career has flourished. This is partly due to the fact that I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be one of the founders and the president of an environmental consulting firm specializing in groundwater, located in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, where I have lived for the last 15 years,” Geller said. “We now have 12 employees and their offices are located throughout the Province of British Columbia. My M.S. thesis focused on an area of hydrogeology in which I routinely practice, and I am considered a technical expert in this subject matter, both within my company and also in the general hydrogeology community in B.C.”