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Events | Arts and Sciences | AlumniApril 14, 2023

No Risk, No Reward

Written By: Ian Silvester

As graduation day draws closer, senior University of Arkansas – Fort Smith geoscience major Jon Turco is preparing for a future he never dreamed was possible: Entering the prestigious geosciences graduate program at Mississippi State University.

A River Valley native, Jon enrolled at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith immediately after graduating from Cedarville High School. But nearly as soon as it began, the stress of college life began to overwhelm him. “I flunked out my first semester,” he said. “I just wasn’t ready for college.”

At 19, Jon took a break, starting his career with just his high school diploma in hand. But by the time he turned 25, the draw of a college education was calling to him again – and this time, he had the life experience to navigate the difficulties of university studies. “UAFS gave me a second chance; they gave me a chance to correct the mistakes of my past,” Jon explained with a proud grin.

Returning to campus more mature – and now feeling more confident – Jon put his nose to the grindstone and began pursuing a nursing degree. Coming from a family of nurses, he knew what to expect from the job outside of school, saying nursing is a good and steady job.

Boasting a 4.0 GPA, Jon was getting everything he needed together to apply to the UAFS nursing program when he realized he was missing a general science class with a lab. Little did he know that class would change his life.

“And that’s when I ran into Doctor Maurice Testa,” laughed Jon.

Having had an affinity for geology since he was a child, Jon found himself in Dr. Testa’s geology class. As the semester progressed, Jon grew closer to Testa, who helped Jon “sneak in another upper-level geology course” called Historical Geology.

Beaming, Jon recalled, “I absolutely fell in love with the subject, and within like two or three weeks, I was like, ‘I need to switch my major.’”

Jon did just that.

After breaking the news to his family, Jon met with his advisor and, with the help of Testa, began his studies as a full-time geosciences student.

Jon got involved in research projects throughout his geosciences coursework but was most intrigued by microplastics and how intrusive they have become in our water supplies and geological systems. He became so involved in the study of microplastics that it became the basis for his graduate school applications.

Geoscience major, Jon Turco, presents research project on microplastics at UAFS Student Research Symposium

“A lot of people are starting to become more aware of microplastics. They are in our oceans, rivers, streams, lakes, and so forth, but no one really thinks about what happens when they go into a cave system,” said Jon.

At Mississippi State University, Jon will research how and when microplastics began to be found within cave systems. Ultimately, Jon hopes to find a way to clean cave systems and rid them of microplastics, helping humankind take another step toward universal access to clean, sustainable drinking water.

Jon returned to UAFS to help others as a nurse; now, he is preparing to use his research to help the world.

“Nineteen-year-old me would have never thought that,” said Jon.

Before he leaves UAFS, Jon has a message for all current and future students, “don’t be afraid to take that class that sounds kind of cool. And whether you are getting a degree or just taking a few classes, keep your head up.”

Jon took a risk on geology, and it changed his life. He hopes his story can be one that others look to when figuring out their path, whether right after high school or, like Jon, with a second chance.

The geoscience program has six other students who will graduate in the coming weeks with acceptance letters to continue their education in graduate school.

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  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Geosciences
  • Current Students
  • Alumni