Shaping Role Models

Alfonso Aldana Jr., '21 Geology

Alfonso Aldana Jr.’s interests in science began in the fifth grade when he developed a passion for paleontology. But, it wasn’t until 13 years later when the eight-year Navy-man was stationed in Sicily, Italy, and living near an active volcano that his hunger for education resurfaced. “Every night, Mount Etna illuminated the Sicilian skies, piquing my curiosity about volcanos,” he says.  

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Alfonso's Navy "yearbook photo"

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Alfonso and the medical department of the USS New Orleans LPD-18 leaving Hawaii

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Patrolling the Port of Colombo with the Sri Lanka Special Forces

The veteran had always wanted to attend college but admits he didn’t take his academic studies seriously in high school and his “financial situation wasn’t the greatest,” so he joined the U. S. Navy instead, gaining an education of a different sort. During his Navy career, Aldana was stationed in Japan, Italy and the United States (San Diego and Chicago), and was deployed on three humanitarian missions while working as a hospital corpsman (medic with special privileges) in Japan. He later took a job as a dental assistant while stationed in San Diego, and the dentist encouraged Aldana to pursue a college education after his military service ended. 

Dr. Durbin’s approach to education is challenging at times, but it comes with the territory of higher learning. He doesn't want to produce mediocre geology majors but wants to make them the best. That approach to education is what makes me dig deeper into myself, so I can become the best.

The California native who grew up in Kentucky began thinking about his love of science and desire for education, and selected USI’s Geology Program as the best place to pursue a new career. USI’s Dr. James Durbin, associate professor of geology, directed Aldana to the courses he’d need to reach his academic goals despite his eight-year educational hiatus. “Conversations with Dr. Durbin inspired me to push through the tough road ahead of me,” says Aldana. “He understood that I was behind the ‘curve’ when it came to my peers but continued to encourage me to push through my courses.”  

Aldana’s education and knowledge expanded exponentially as he took progressively challenging courses from volcanologist expert Dr. Tony Maria, associate professor of geology. He introduced Aldana to not only the concepts of geology and its sub disciplines but shared professional career experiences as they related to the material being covered in class. “During lab time, Dr. Maria always challenged me to understand what I was learning, rather than just going through the motion of completing tasks.” 

The future for Aldana will be far from rote too, containing not only a deep comprehension and understanding of geological histories but a plan. “Attaining a degree in geology will be my first step in understanding how the Earth works,” he says. “My long-term career goal is to make an environmental impact on my home state of Kentucky and help its citizens in any way possible.”

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Alfonso and his niece after returning home to Henderson from his last deployment

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USI Geology club trip to the Ben E. Clement Museum in Marion, Kentucky

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