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Alum digs deep to solve problems

April 24, 2014

Photo of waterAlumnus Leo Kurylo has found himself in sticky situations, from oil spills to mercury contamination.

The Lombard resident shared his work as a hydrogeologist with students from the University Honors Program during Souper Wednesday and told them that now is the time to explore the world.

“If you guys have any courses that offer you practical experience in what you’re planning to do, I can’t encourage you strongly enough to take those courses,” Kurylo said.

He found his NIU years enriching because courses allowed him to travel to Honduras for an archaeology dig and out West to places such as the Badlands in South Dakota to practice geologic field methods and mapping. On those trips, he was able to apply what he had learned in the classroom.

“After you graduate, you’re probably going to have a job and a mortgage,” said Kurylo, who double-majored in geology and anthropology at Northern. “Some of you may have a spouse and kids. Those are all going to take up a lot of time and make it difficult to travel.”

If traveling isn’t possible, he encouraged students to find an internship to apply what they’re learning.

To encourage them to make better choices, Kurylo shared mistakes that he made as a student. If graduate school is part of the plan, he suggested committing full time to classes rather than part time while working. Because his job required a big time commitment and a lot of traveling, he didn’t complete graduate school.

Souper Wednesday: Lee Kurylo

He has worked on toxic waste sites across the U.S. and currently works as a hydrogeologist for Roux Associates, an environmental consulting and management firm.

“Especially in the sciences and especially in consulting, once you get a job, the employer is going to want all of you all the time,” he said.

Networking wasn’t considered either when he was younger, Kurylo said. So he advised students to stay in touch with classmates and professors to keep networks open for career prospects.

Although Kurylo had a high GPA and was in the University Honors Program, he recommended avoiding being a “grade chaser.” Learning and applying that knowledge are more important, he said.