Monday, February 4, 2013

David Hon: Wisconsin DNR

Name: David Hon
Family: N/A
Major & Minor: Geography, Environmental Emphasis
Year Graduated: May 2012
Current Employer: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Job Title: Hydrogeologist and Storm Water Specialist
Length of Employment: Since May 2012

Interests and Hobbies: On an average week, you’ll find me doing something active every day, whether it’s going for a long, hard run outside, going for a leisurely bike ride around town, or swimming at Gold’s Gym. I cook all the time and love it. Spending time with my friends and meeting new people are very important things on my to-do list as well! I also enjoy reading, travelling, and playing piano.

What helped you decide what route to take after graduation (i.e. graduate school or type of job)?
I wasn’t sure exactly what direction my career was going to take, although I had a general idea. Working with people was on the forefront of what was important to me in the job search, but I also enjoyed working with GIS, research, and water resources. I thought gaining some experience was important before doing anything else so graduate school was not part of my short-term plan. I wanted a job that was challenging, had lots of variety, and outside my comfort zone.  

So, I decided that my best course of action was to explore what jobs were out there and send out as many resumes as possible. I learned a lot about what careers were available to me based on my experience and education just from the job hunt.

Describe your typical day at work: As a hydrogeologist, I have two basic duties: reduce the liability for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation during roadwork by scouting potential hazards (petroleum contamination, hazardous waste, etc) in southwestern Wisconsin, and coordinate cleanups of petroleum and heavy metal contaminated soil and groundwater in Jackson County. The typical day involves gathering buried information, meeting with City Boards, negotiating, interviewing local officials, calling bluffs, composing and sending technical notices, and occasionally I’ll sample a private well or use GIS to visualize a large site.

As a storm water specialist, I review construction, industrial and municipal properties to convey permit coverage to them. Any time a property over an acre is under construction, the owner needs a storm water permit. I review their plans to reduce suspended solids and pollutants into surface waters and wetlands and make sure their best management practices (BMPs), like detention basins or bioswales, are adequate. I also inspect the sites once we convey coverage to make sure the BMPs are functioning properly. Many of these properties are frac sand mines in Western Wisconsin. Knowledge of geomorphic features, watershed properties, and physical geography is certainly key to success in this position.

Needless to say I have the variety, challenge, and intellectual stimulation that I was looking for.

What do you think gave you to edge to get your current position?

I took 15 credits of coursework in hydrogeology, as well as some coursework in physics and chemistry, which gave me the background knowledge to be a hydrogeologist. I also had an interest in working with people and had a fairly large amount of experience doing just that. I was a Peer Educator for the Center for Alcohol Studies and Education for 3 years; a caregiver for a young man with Down’s Syndrome for 3 years; a crew leader for a team of volunteers surveying invasive plants in the Eau Claire County Forest; and I was actively involved in the Eau Claire County Parks and Forestry Citizen Advisory Committee. By the time I graduated I was well-versed in negotiation, persuasion, and patience.

I also was a research assistant for three different projects, where I worked closely with several professors in different departments (Biology, Geology and Geography). I enthusiastically was involved with each project, which gave me several more good references. I had a master resume prepared with my entire work history and spent close to 10 hours perfecting the resume I sent into the WDNR. I had a lot of practice interviewing during my college career, so I was relaxed and confident in conveying my experiences when I walked in to interview for my current position.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Gosh, I’ll be 28? Old! There are a number of ideas floating through my head, but hopefully starting a family and either go into the consulting industry (aka the private sector) or attend to a graduate program for environmental law.

What advice can you give to those who are still in school? 
GIS might be one of the hottest careers out there right now, and it’s a good option for our major. But it’s not even close to the only option for geographers. Find any way you can to do what you’re passionate about. That way, you’ll gain skills and knowledge quickly in things you’re interested in. Also, when you’re enthusiastic about something, you make lasting connections with people, so your network will grow naturally.
Take your curiosity by the horns. If you are creative and self-directed, independent studies, research assistantships, and internships are all great options to explore your interests further.
Get a job even if you don’t need one. There is nothing like real world experience. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in school, but work keeps you grounded.
Keep a master resume with all of your experiences on it (not just jobs!), as well as a template industry-specific resume and cover letter. That way you can just copy and paste what you need out of the master resume onto the individual resume. Be meticulous when you are designing your final resume.
Start a quality LinkedIn account. If you get a business card from someone or talk to someone who may have an opening later down the line, it’s a great way of following up with them if you’re interested. If they show interest, they can look at your profile, which is essentially an expanded online resume.
Ignore any pressure from anybody to become something you’re not. While their observations may be helpful, if you don’t do what you want to do, you’ll regret it later.
Work hard but also play hard. Be active. Meet new people. Explore new hobbies. Keep a journal or diary if you want to find inspiration. Leave some room in your day to think – block off at least an hour with absolutely nothing planned. Creativity often comes in a flash when you’re least expecting it. 

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