Donna Escobar and Mark Schnur
Graduate Mark Schnur and his wife, Donna Escobar '83 (B.S. biology)

Commencement Close-Up: Mark Schnur maps out a new direction in environmental sciences

By Lynn Gosnell
Special Projects Writer

(May 21, 2009)--A planner for the San Antonio Water System, a triathlete who loves to fish and hunt and a military veteran, Mark Schnur '09 has added another accomplishment to his active life -- earning an M.S. in environmental sciences. The degree represents a new direction for Schnur, though one that complements the outdoor enthusiast's lifestyle and professional experience.

Schnur's path to UTSA began halfway across the world in Afghanistan. An Army Reservist since 1983, he was called up for active duty in 2003 and spent a year leading provincial reconstruction teams. Planning missions and tracking results required the extensive use of GIS (geographic information system) and GPS (global positioning system) technology.

"We used the technology to supplement the maps we had," said Schnur. GIS takes maps and ties them to databases on computers, he explained, and GPS is a satellite-based system that uses portable devices to pinpoint a precise location.

After retiring in 2004 as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, Schnur decided to learn more about GIS technology, and he enrolled in UTSA's GIS certificate program. It had been more than 15 years since he had been on a college campus. He earned a bachelor of science degree in physical education in 1988 and a master of science in recreation and park administration in 1990, both from Indiana University.

Schnur credits Professor O.W. Van Auken for encouraging his interest in applied ecology. Assistant Professor Hongjie Xie taught him remote-sensing technology and became his thesis adviser. In the fall, Schnur will begin doctoral studies in environmental science and engineering at UTSA.

Schnur works full time at SAWS managing the capital improvements program. He maintains a GIS database of all the company's projects. At SAWS, he said, "We are interested in how climate change will impact the operation of our system and water supplies.

"I had a specific interest in GIS, so I decided to go with this. I didn't really dream that I would go on and get my degree, and then go on for my doctorate, but that's where this interest has taken me," he said.