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Alumnus earns master’s degree from NYC museum

| Shari Lau

Kevin Gostomski and fianceeBlugolds constantly seek out unique opportunities, so when Kevin Gostomski, a 2005 UW-Eau Claire geology and English graduate, heard about the only American museum with the authority to grant a master of arts in teaching degree, he knew he had to apply.

Gostomski received his master’s degree from the Richard Gilder Graduate School Master of Arts in Teaching Program at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on Oct. 5.

Before enrolling in the master’s degree program at AMNH, Gostomski worked at the Wisconsin Historical Museum from 2005-07 and then got a job as an exploration geologist for several mining companies based in Alaska and Montana.

“For seven years I was able to explore many remote parts of Alaska — especially the northwestern Brooks Range in the Arctic — and developed a career in metals exploration,” he said. “I worked on several copper and zinc projects as well as at an open-pit gold mine outside of Fairbanks. I was working for a copper company in central Montana for several years prior to learning about the AMNH program. Exploration geology is a passion of mine, and I made many lifelong friends within the industry. Unfortunately, the volatility of the markets made investment in mining projects less predictable and job contracts were less reliable. I had to think of a career backup plan.”

Read more about Gostomski’s career path in the Q&A below. 

How and why did you become involved with the American Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Graduate School Master of Arts in Teaching Program?
After graduating from UW-Eau Claire, I moved to Madison where I began to work at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. My job was to create educational tours for visiting school groups. I always imagined it as “edu-tainment” because I designed programs that were as much fun as they were educational. Later, I began giving tours at the UW-Madison Geology Museum and designed similar programs. I have always felt a certain bond with the idea of a museum: an informal space where learning can happen without presupposition or expectation. To facilitate others’ experiences in these spaces is immensely gratifying for me. One day, while I was working at the Geology Museum, the museum director, Brooke Norsted, showed me a flyer for the Earth science Master of Arts in Teaching Program at AMNH. I was immediately interested and felt almost as if the program had been designed specifically for me.

What did the master’s program entail?

The master’s program is a 16-month immersion in museum education as well as teaching within high-needs schools in New York City. The program is composed of two summers and one school year. The first summer is devoted to developing confidence in teaching through relatively low-stakes education programs within the museum. The school year is then divided between two different schools within the New York City public schools where the focus is on co-teaching and gaining experience in the classroom.

In the fall of 2014, I worked as a co-teacher at Bronx Early College Academy teaching Earth science to seventh- and eighth-grade students. In the spring of 2015, I worked as a co-teacher at Midwood High School in Brooklyn co-teaching Earth science and chemistry. The final summer is dedicated to museum-based research and field investigations. I worked with a small team of educators and scientists to study metamorphic rocks in New York City and the Manhattan Prong. We used optical microscropy to study thin sections of rocks as well as more advanced technology such as electron microprobe analysis and X-ray mapping to compare the bulk chemistry of schists around New York City with the less metamorphosed phyllites further north along the Hudson River.

Once the program finished, I got a job as a science teacher at City Knoll Middle School in Manhattan. I continue to combine my scientific and creative interests by developing multidisciplinary units that combine aspects of science, math, English and social studies.

What are your career goals since receiving your master’s? Are you currently working?

I am currently working as a science teacher at City Knoll Middle School in Manhattan. I’m very busy with planning my first year’s curriculum, but as always I am thinking about other career goals. I would like to do further work in metals exploration and mining someday, once the market stabilizes and projects become more available. I also still work on many creative projects, such as documentaries about geological field work and the education program at AMNH. This is due in part to my involvement with TV10 at UW-Eau Claire, which taught me how to shoot and edit video. I used to be a host of the independent film show on TV10, which was always a great joy to me. I also continue to write fiction, including a current science fiction project that is a mix of futurism and the old American frontier.

Can you describe how your education at UW-Eau Claire prepared you for your work in the AMNH program?

UW-Eau Claire’s exceptional geology department provided me with the opportunity to experience firsthand the excitement of lab- and field-based science investigations. My passion for the subject and my continuing interest in the education of others all stems from the UWEC geology department’s unwavering dedication to the betterment of their students. For as long as I was a student — and still to this day — the geology faculty at UWEC have crafted an extraordinary program that gives each student the opportunities to develop their skills. In particular, the field-based classes such as Rocky Mountain Field Studies and Field Camp I and II are invaluable in the development of professional Earth scientists. For a school of its size, the UWEC geology department is second to none.

That being said, it would be unfair of me not to mention my fondness for the creative writing faculty — especially David Shih and Allyson Loomis — for challenging my thinking and making me re-evaluate my suppositions and expectations of human nature. The unusual combination of my educational interests at UWEC has allowed me to pursue a variety of career paths that I never thought possible.   

Is there a specific class, professor or experience that stands out to you as influential or important?

I credit the liberal arts vision of UWEC with all of my professional success. When I was a sophomore, I realized that I had to take a lab-based science course. Since I had taken most of them — biology, chemistry, physical science, etc. — in high school, I wanted to try something that I had never experienced before. Thankfully for me, my Geology 110 course was taught by Phil Ihinger — the most enthusiastic and captivating teacher I have ever had. Even though I was in the 8 a.m. section, I couldn’t wait to get to Phillips Hall to learn about the history of the Earth and how we could investigate modern landforms to discover the past. He went out of his way to support me and get me involved in the summer field course to the Rocky Mountains, which changed me forever. I know I was not the most conventional of geology students, but Phil took me under his wing and helped me develop my interest in Earth science. I know for certain that had I never met him, my life would be very different today.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

When I was graduating from high school and deciding on which university to attend, I came to visit UWEC and immediately fell in love with it. The gentle beauty of the Chippewa River and the sandstone hills captivated me so much that I didn’t apply to any other school. For me, UWEC was my only choice. Fifteen years on from my freshman year, I still don’t regret my decision. Sometimes things just feel right — you have to let yourself fall into the unknown and trust that when you reach the other side you’ll be better off than you began.

Photo captions

Top photo: Graduates gather at the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City to celebrate the third commencement in the museum's history. (Photo credit: © AMNH/M.) 

Side photo: Kevin Gostomski celebrates his graduation with his fiancée.