Geology alumna (2011) Dr. Jenna L. Shelton is Associate Program Coordinator with the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program at the of the U.S. Geological Survey, based out of Indianapolis, Indiana. We asked her a few questions we thought might be of interest to current and prospective students to gain knowledge about the field, types of careers people pursue and skills needed for various roles.
Please tell us a little about your job and what a typical day involves.
I am an Associate Program Coordinator for the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP), administering the STATEMAP Program and the U.S. GeoFramework Initiative. The NCGMP is a congressionally mandated Program and the major funding source for the production of geologic maps (2D and 3D) in the USA. The Program funds USGS scientists to perform mapping and related research, but also funds cooperative agreements with State Geological Surveys and Universities to fund map production, further skills needed to develop geologic maps, and support generating a 2D/3D seamless geoframework model for the nation. A typical day involves a lot of meetings (with USGS scientists, external stakeholders, State Geologists, and grant recipients), drafting documents used for funding decisions and requests for proposals, developing science strategies to meet our Congressionally mandated goals, and reviewing proposals to evaluate their scientific potential. I am definitely no longer a field hydrologist, but helping shape the direction of and fund science is incredibly fulfilling to me.
What drew you into the Geology major as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois?
After taking Craig Bethke’s Introduction to Hydrogeology, I knew Geology was what I wanted to study! I started at UIUC as ChemE major and realized Sophomore year that it wasn’t for me, so I took a diverse course load first semester Junior year, which included Hydrogeology. After a few weeks, I officially switched my major and signed up for all Geology classes second semester. Tom Johnson’s Isotope course determined how I wanted to take hydrogeology and make it a career — researching isotope tracers in groundwater.
What was your favorite class at U of I or class every student should take / is most helpful for a career path like your own?
Obviously, I am going to recommend Introduction to Hydrogeology! However, I would definitely focus on data science and big data as they relate to the geosciences. Almost every earth science career at the USGS requires collection and analysis of big data.
Any words of wisdom for current or prospective students?
There is a lot of possibility to integrate what you enjoy about Geology into a career at the USGS, so really focus on what you love about geosciences. We geologists tend to be passionate about our major, and that passion can absolutely guide your career. I started at the USGS as a Research Hydrologist studying water-rock interactions and stable isotopes because those interested me.