Featured Alumni 2021: Shannon Kobs, PhD.

Shannon Kobs, PhD. Associate Professor at Idaho State University

Dr. Shannon Kobs Nawotniak graduated from UB with her Ph.D. in Geology in 2009 and is now an Associate professor in the Department of Geosciences and the Director of the University Honors Program at Idaho State University. She is a physical volcanologist interested in the connection between processes and products. While her heart remains with studying explosive volcanic eruption columns, she has lately found herself increasingly fascinated by basaltic lavas and planetary geology. Career highlights include riding a horse up a volcano through the rainforest (with a machete, of course), serving as a Mars mission simulation astronaut for NASA, and co-discovering a hydrothermal field in the Pacific Ocean. She believes in the importance of outreach, and her work has been featured in IFLScience and NPR's Science Friday. 

How did you become interested in geology?

I was a rock nerd as a kid -- my parents used to give me poundage restrictions on how many rocks I could collect while we were on vacation. The Tulip City Gem and Mineral Club from my hometown of Holland, Michigan, gave me wonderful opportunities to rockhound growing up and ensured that I saw geology as a long-term possibility rather than a passing childhood hobby.

What is your current job and how does your geology background influence it?

I am currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Geosciences at Idaho State University and the Director of the University Honors Program. It's easy enough to see how my geology background is critical for my job as a geology professor specializing in volcanology, but I don't think people realize how valuable it has also been for my role as the Honors Director for the university. Geology is very much a nexus science, pulling on a wide array of subjects, which has been critical to helping me work with Honors students from across the entire university. How I mentor students now is deeply informed by how I was mentored at UB, particularly by Dr. Bursik and Dr. Gregg.

What academic degrees do you have, and from what institutions?

I graduated with a BS in Geology from Michigan Technological University in 2003, and followed that up with my Ph.D. in Geology from UB in 2009. Go Buffalo!

How did your education at UB influence your career, and what was the most memorable aspect of your time at UB?

My education at UB has been absolutely central to my career and has allowed me to chase my dreams. UB taught me not only about my content areas of volcanology and high-performance computing, but also how to work with others, to mentor and teach, to be creative and solution-oriented when things go sideways in the field or lab (it isn't a true field experience if everything goes perfectly as planned!), and more. I worked hard, laughed hard, and made some of the best friends of my life at UB. There are so many memorable aspects of my time there, but what really stands out are the people and how wonderful they were. 

What advice do you have for people considering a degree and career in geology?

Pack more socks and underwear than you think you'll need in the field, say yes to as many new adventures as you can, and learn from everyone you can! Some of the most transformative moments in my scientific life have come from getting off of the beaten path and listening to people tell me about how their lives have been shaped by geology (mostly volcanic activity, given my specialty). There is so much to learn and do out there, and so many opportunities to contribute to a better world.


Featured Alumni 2021: Dino Zack

Dino Zack presenting on Fluorescence to BGS.

Mr. Dino Zack, PG, STS, is continuing in his 23rd year employed at AECOM Technical Services, Inc. in Buffalo, NY as a senior project manager and geologist.  He graduated from the University of Buffalo in 1998 with degrees in geology studying stratigraphy, sedimentology, and structural geology.

Mr. Zack worked as a petroleum geologist for several years before switching to environmental geology.  Some of his current responsibilities encompass managing hazardous waste remediation projects, including coordination of staff and project budgets; performing geological and hydrogeological investigations; technical writing and review of documents; remediation, geotechnical, and construction oversight; sediment dredging and capping projects; solid waste and hazardous waste landfill construction; and providing interface with community organizations and governmental agencies.

Mr. Zack is a Professional Geologist for the state of Alaska and was one of the first to receive his professional license to practice Geology in the state of New York. Mr. Zack is an active member of several local and national professional affiliations and was selected for the Society of American Military Engineers Volunteer Service Award for his time spent outside of working hours to provide STEM/STEAM related support to the community.

Mr. Zack is in his 10th year sitting on the SUNY Buffalo Geology Alumni Advisory Board focusing on student outreach activities.  He also volunteers his time at SUNY Buffalo Career Center mentoring students, as well as mentoring students at SUNY Geneseo on behalf of the American Institute of Professional Geologists.   In addition, he has provided countless hours of STEM/STEAM-based youth training working with elementary school through high school-age students on behalf of WNY STEM Hub.

When not at work or mentoring, he spends his free time prospecting for and presenting on fluorescent minerals and enjoying the great outdoors with his wife Amy, and two children, Colton, and Carly.

How did you become interested in geology?

I have been interested in “rocks” since I was very young.  I can remember countless family camping trips to Allegany State Park where I would climb on Thunder Rocks and spend hours walking up and down the small creeks looking for interesting rocks and fossils (and salamanders).  I can also remember my father taking me, at a very young age, to Spring Creek in Alden, New York to hunt for pyritized fossils.  I always felt I would find a career in something outdoorsy and related to the environment.  As I started my college journey with a focus in veterinary science (I worked as a veterinary assistant throughout my early college years), it wasn’t until I took a class offered through SUNY Fredonia (Geology of the National Parks) that I turned my full attention to geology.  At SUNY Buffalo, Dr. King and Dr. Clemency had much influence in captivating my attention to geology while taking some of my early geology classes.  

What is your current job and how does your geology background influence it?

As I wrapped up my Master of Arts at SUNY Buffalo in geology, I worked for a very small oil and gas company interpreting borehole logs and scouting for prospects.   Following graduation, I accepted an entry-level environmental geology position at TAMS Consultants, Inc. who, coincidentally enough, had a satellite office located at Ridge Lea where I had spent a fair amount of my time working on research projects and taking geology labs while at SUNY Buffalo.  My love for being outdoors and my academic background in geology sparked my passion for a career in geology.  I currently work at AECOM Technical Services, Inc., an American multinational engineering firm, in the environmental group as a senior project manager and professional geologist.  My experience at SUNY Buffalo and the many years of “boots-on-the-ground” field work early in my career greatly influenced the work I do today.  

What academic degrees do you have, and from what institutions?

I earned both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in geology at SUNY Buffalo.   During my graduate studies, I worked under Dr. Jacobi, with grants from USGS and NYSGS, mapping the stratigraphy, structural geology, and sedimentary rocks in Allegany and Cattaraugus County’s in New York.  While wrapping up my Master’s thesis, I completed all the course worked required for a PhD, but as I approached 30 years of age, I decided to enter the “real world” and start my career in geology.  

How did your education at UB influence your career, and what was the most memorable aspect of your time at UB? My graduate work at SUNY Buffalo had a very large influence on my career. I learned to take a project from start to finish while working in a team environment; each of us collaborating and exchanging geological data and ideas each time we returned from the field.

Throughout my studies at SUNY Buffalo, I have acquired a conglomerate of life-time memories including traveling to Mexico to study volcanoes with Dr. Sheridan; attending field camp with  Dr. Mitchell, Dr. King; participating multiple trips to the Appalachians with Drs. Jacobi, Fountain, and Smith; camping trips through the geology clubs to the Adirondacks; and all the life-long friendships I made along the way! All these experiences combined helped to build the foundation and passion for geology I have today.  I often reflect on these exciting experiences when mentoring students or new staff.

What advice do you have for people considering a degree and career in geology?

There many career paths that can be taken with a geology degree and it is very important to keep an open mind when searching for a job.  While mentoring, I often explain to my mentees to take advantage of all the opportunities that come their way, even if it doesn’t seem important at the time.  As an example, I can recall during my first professional job interview; I was able to talk about all the experiences I had at the University as I had no professional experience yet (after multiple interviews, I was offered the job and I’m still working at it today!).  The interviewer does not want to hear themselves talk; they want to hear what you have to say as you could be the future member of their team.