Featured Alumni 2020: Dr. Jessica Ball

Dr. Jessica Ball.

Photo of the 2018 eruption of Kilauea Volcano, taken from Leilani Estates in Lower Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii, with Dr. Jessica Ball

Dr. Jessica Ball.

Dr. Jessica Ball at the top of Lassen Park in Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA.

How did you become interested in geology?

A childhood spent wandering the halls of the Smithsonian! I grew up close to Washington, DC, and my parents would take me to the Natural History Museum a lot. I loved the exhibits about volcanoes, as well as the gems and minerals on display. I also collected rocks everywhere I went, and my mom let me have 'fossil digs' in the back yard (mostly when she wanted a new garden bed dug).

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

I'm a volcanic hazards and communication specialist at the USGS California Volcano Observatory. My background in physical volcanology and numerical modeling has made it easy to slip into the volcanic hazard modeling realm, but my experience as a blogger and social media science communicator gave me the skills I need to be the public information officer for my observatory. I also spent time in Washington DC doing a science policy fellowship, so I can translate between scientists and policymakers - an important group when it comes to funding! I really believe that part of being a successful scientist is knowing how to communicate well, no matter who your audience is.

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

I have a BS in Geology from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and a PhD from the University at Buffalo. I also have a minor in Archaeology from W&M, but I don't use that one very much anymore!

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

UB was really the first place that I got to dig into volcanology as a field. My undergraduate department gave me a good foundation in mapping and igneous petrology, but I didn't get to really observe processes and deposits until I got to UB - and of course I was hooked right away! I still do the kind of hazard modeling that I worked on at UB, and many of the the people I connected with as a graduate student are my colleagues at the USGS today.

One of my most memorable experiences during graduate school was the first trip I took to Guatemala to my field area at Santiaguito Volcano. It was the first time I'd been to a developing country, the first time I'd seen lava domes up close, and the first time I'd worked with people who didn't have the advantage of the kinds of technology and funding we have access to in the US. It was humbling to see how the volcano observatory there had done so much work with so little in the way of resources, and how closely they partnered with the communities around their volcanoes to try and keep people safe.  

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

Be adaptable! During your degree it will help you get past obstacles in your research and to come up with new ideas. It took me a long time to get used to the idea that I was never going to have the perfect answer to a research question, or that I might have to give up on a line of thinking even though I'd put a lot of effort into it. Science takes time and it doesn't always work out the way you expect it to. Even now, not everything I work on pans out, and that's okay. Because it's geology and it incorporates so many different disciplines, my research almost always produces something useful, even if it's not for me!

 

Featured Alumni 2020: Martin Derby

Martin and Laurie Derby on Mt. Norquay overlooking Banff Alberta.

Martin and Laurie Derby on Mt. Norquay overlooking Banff Alberta

Martin Derby.

Martin Derby in front of Cooke Hall at the University of Buffalo.

How did you become interested in geology?

I’ve always had a love for the outdoors and exploring.  In my adolescent years, I spent a lot of my time either camping, canoeing or hiking, either with my family or the Boy Scouts.  During my high school years, I developed a passion for physics/astronomy and planetary science.  After I received my associate degree, I then commenced with my studies in geological sciences at UB.   I was really fortunate to learn from some great UB professors including Drs. King, Cazeau, Jacobi, Ebert and Mitchell. Field camp really fueled my passion to learn more and brought all the classroom/textbook information into real life; that’s where geology all came together for me.  My real passion and career foundation is engineering geology, although I’ve worked as a hydrogeologist for many years, and now as a practice leader in geohazards.  Ironically, my favorite places to vacation/visit with my wife are Arizona and Utah which are not far from some of our geology field camp areas.  

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

My official title is Sr. Geohazard Practice Leader; however, I cover a lot of different technical and management roles (wear many hats as they say).  On the technical side, I oversee the Appalachian region which includes geohazards and geotechnical investigations…. we perform geohazard assessments and identify and delineate landslides and subsidence areas mostly for the natural gas sector.  I’m also a global account manager for a company in Madrid, Spain, which includes travel to both Europe and South America.  Additionally, I provide senior leadership and business development to our personnel/offices in Pittsburgh, PA and Horseheads, NY as well as for our geophysics team in Buffalo.

I’m immersed in geology every day, mostly around geohazards identification, geotechnical investigations and geophysical surveys, and for me, that’s the real fun part of my job. I’m very thankful for my educational background, and for the professors who put their heart and soul into providing a great learning experience.

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

I received my first degree in Civil Engineering Technology (AAS), then transferred to UB and received my bachelors in Geological Sciences.  After graduation I started working as an engineering geologist in NYC and took evening classes and received my masters in Geosciences from Montclair State University.  It was always my dream to teach geology classes at the college/university level and to conduct research. So, in 2017 I decided to go back to school/UB and started my PhD in the geohazards program.  My current research focuses on a comparative analysis of in-situ instruments and groundbased remote sensing for landslide monitoring.

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

Anyone who loves the outdoors, and learning new things about our earth, and is concerned about our resources and sustainability should consider the field of geology. My career in geology has been extremely rewarding……it has fulfilled a lifelong journey of exploring and learning new things about our planet.

The best advice I can give is to follow your passion or the subject that interests you most.  That passion or drive will get you through the difficult times and will make you appreciate the good times which builds a successful career and life.