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Robert Salinas served as an Intern for the Raba Kistner Environmental department in the fall semester of 2017 and has transitioned to being a part-time Environmental Technician. He is currently enrolled at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and is working towards earning his Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. Robert was hired to support administrative and Environmental staff by helping produce various environmental service studies. He frequently assists with field activities, data collection, site visitations, and groundwater sampling. In addition to field work, Robert provides graphic analysis that assists with environmental reports for clients.

We caught up with Robert to learn more about what it’s like to be a young professional working for Raba Kistner. 

How did you find out about Raba Kistner and our internship program?

“I was actively looking (online searches and word of mouth) for environmental companies in San Antonio around the same time Rick Klar, [Vice President of RK Environmental] came and spoke to GEOPATHS, a UTSA program designed to improve academic and career preparedness and stimulate interest in specific types of geoscience careers. Raba Kistner was on my radar from my own searches, but speaking to Richard Klar gave me a better understanding of the requirements and expectations of an internship.”

What is the work relationship like between you and Rick Klar?

“Rick is my mentor and has served as a role model for my professional development. He has continually provided feedback regarding my career progression and has prepared me for what to expect within the field, helping facilitate my professional growth.”

Are you involved in any professional associations?

“I’m involved in the following professional groups:

  • National Speleological Society (NSS), Bexar Grotto chapter
  • Texas Cave Management Association (TCMA)
  • The American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG)
  • The Geological Society of America (GSA)”

What have been some of your favorite classes in college?

“Fundamentals of Geographic Information Systems (GIS); for being able to take massive amounts of data and turn it into a visual interpretation of that data. Groundwater Hydrogeology, Geomorphology, Geochemistry; for better understanding and interpreting the environment and landscapes. It’s interesting to see different aspects, micro and macro, and their interlaying relationships.”

How has your internship and part time position here supported learning in the classroom?

“Understanding the ‘endgame’ of the classroom setting has been an incredible benefit. At times the class topics can be incredibly dry, or even frustrating. However, when you see how this knowledge is applicable in a real-world setting, such as what I have done with Raba Kistner, it helps to fuse the concepts together and creates a more personal investment in understanding the classroom material.”

Conversely, how have you been able to apply what you’ve learned at school while working here?

Whether I’m doing a wetland delineation, double-ring infiltration, resistivity testing, or other field work, I use bits and pieces, to different degrees, from everything I have learned as a geology major. My studies at UTSA have helped prepare me to work on practical applications for Raba Kistner’s clients, from being able to identify soils and understand what impact those soil types will have on the tests I am conducting, to evaluating what other geological factors are present and must be taken into consideration. Most of the time field work goes smoothly, but when it does not, I find that’s when I must draw from what I have learned at UTSA the most to accomplish a given task.

What do you like most about your former internship and current part time position at Raba Kistner?

I really enjoy the Raba Kistner culture. As an intern coming into work with professionals, I was worried that I would be far behind the curve when it came to my knowledge base and application of said knowledge. However, integration was much quicker and smoother than expected due to a mindset of collaboration within the team. Whenever I was stumped, or unsure, I was able to approach anyone for help. There definitely is a shared motivation for everyone to be successful, and a wiliness to put that into action.

What did a typical day look like for you as an intern and now as a part time Environmental Technician?

“I have broken up my weekdays into dedicated days; some days are fully school, while other days of the week are fully working at Raba Kistner. For days where I am working in the office, it is straight forward, but out in the field I try and stay better organized and prepared. To date, most of my days have been in the field.

It can take quite a bit of time to get to a site, and if you aren’t prepared it could cause delays and potentially extra expenses. I look ahead at the job description to see how I must prepare for the day; what equipment I need, do I need any graphics (Aerial shots, street maps, etc.), and who will I be working with. If I am working with someone, I want to communicate with them to make sure we are on the same page, and if they have any advice or further requirements for me.

I usually arrive around 7:30AM to 8:30AM at the office, depending on if I need to get a head start on a longer job. I check in and review the job again to prevent any miscommunications, go over my checklists, check equipment, and then head to the job site. Some jobs are more physical than others, such as carrying heavy equipment or hammering in infiltration rings. The goal is job completion, so some jobs are just a few hours, while other going late into the day.”

How has cross training helped you gain experience at Raba Kistner?

“Raba Kistner’s culture emphasizes cross training, a philosophy which has provided me with the opportunity to work alongside archaeologists, environmental specialists, geologists, GIS analysts, and planners. Being tasked to diverse roles presented challenges, which forces me to draw knowledge from not just a wide academic background, but also from prior research exposure. These tasks included, but were not limited to, creating soil profiles while looking for human activity, groundwater sampling, conducting ground resistivity, support for graphics preparation, identifying presence of asbestos in buildings, and conducting Phase I Environmental Site Assessments.”

What was one of the first projects that you worked on with Raba Kistner?

“One of the first projects to be taken on was part of the Vista Ridge Pipeline, overseen by San Antonio Water Systems (SAWS). In conjunction with expertise from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), two grids were laid out over the footprint of the project’s proposed water storage tank and ground resistivity was conducted. This data was then used by RK Environmental to provide an analysis and recommendation to SAWS. This high-profile project, compelling in its ambition and multi-organization cooperation, aims to transport 142 miles of water from Burleson County to San Antonio. These preparations will address future needs for water from diverse sources which can aid in San Antonio water reserves by supplementing the Edwards Aquifer.”

What advice would you give to students interested in environmental careers?

Be a well-rounded student. There is a tendency to focus only on one’s GPA. While important, it is equally important to show experience and motivation. This can be done by taking part in research, which also tends to offer money in the form of grants or scholarships. Much of the research I have done has been based in academia, but the skills I learned mimicked those needed in the work place, which also means less time is needed for an employer to train me in techniques and/or equipment. Students looking to take part in research can check with their university department, but also check to see if the university has a dedicated research department that acts as a one stop location for opportunities.

Additionally, research and community involvement can be done by volunteering at museums that have departments covering their interests. I myself volunteered with Dr. Adams, Curator of Paleontology and Geology at the Witte Museum. There are also many professional organizations that can help link you with research, and other opportunities. Along with the ones listed above, the Union Internationale de Spéléologie(UIS) is an organization which covers many disciplines of interests to those in the environmental sector.”

Interested in an exciting and rewarding career? See all of the available opportunities that Raba Kistner has to offer here: https://www.rkci.com/careers