Eugene Von Bon, Environmental Science M.S. Student
By Lauren Moriarty
After serving a little over twenty years in the Air Force as a dental assistant, Eugene Von Bon faced a big decision. What was next? He wanted to go back to school, but wasn’t sure what to study. "I started looking at things I might be good at based on my experiences and initially thought HR might be a good fit. While I had experience and was skilled at doing it, I didn’t really enjoy it," he says. Just as he was about to apply to UTSA’s business school, Eugene thought about what he loved studying as a kid. He always came back to science.
To prepare himself for the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science program, Eugene took remedial courses in the summer. He didn’t get his first real taste of the Environmental Science curriculum until the fall. "The things that made it clear to me that I had made the right choice was Intro to Environmental Science part I," Eugene remembers. During one lesson, the class learned about the effect of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone and how that change in the ecosystem altered the course of the Yellowstone River. They dived into the repercussions that reverberate beyond science into politics and values. Eugene was hooked.
With the Bachelor of Science under his belt, Eugene is looking forward to graduating with his Master of Science later this spring. He is currently conducting stormwater pollution research with Dr. Laub. "In between the convocation center and HEB Student Union, there is a storm drain that we were sampling to see how much pollutants were coming in and out the other end," he explains. "We are characterizing how pollutants move through this channel. My part is the preconstruction study. Right now an improvement on the channel is being installed, essentially a rain garden that, once completed, we hope will show a favorable change in how much pollutant mass exits the channel. Stormwater runoff is a big concern for San Antonio because we are growing out and not up. We are taking wild ecosystems and paving over them. [UTSA] is right on top of the recharge zone for the Edwards Aquifer, so we want to know if this growth is increasing pollutant inputs into the aquifer and how we might mitigate it."
Although Eugene has faced unique challenges as a nontraditional student balancing his studies and family life, he strongly encourages others who feel a similar academic itch to go back to school. "Don’t be afraid to do it, jump in," he advises. "You’ll either find out that it’s a bad fit or you’ll find out that it’s the best choice you’ve ever made. If it’s a bad fit, don’t worry; life doesn’t have a strict ‘no do-overs’ rule, and starting new again is a hallmark of a nontraditional student."
Eugene sees his life experience as a bonus in the classroom, noting that students who come back to academia after a prior career contribute a valuable outlook that can benefit their classmates. "Too often older generations belittle the younger ones, and I find that attitude is unhelpful. I prefer to bring my experiences gently and offer them as gifts when needed, not use them as weapons. At the same time, I need to listen first, seeking to understand before being understood. And I urge others in my generation to do the same," he says.