Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., Jim Clark always had two interests -- working with kids and geology -- so when he went off to college he pursued a dual major in geology and secondary education.
"When I graduated in 1974 I could have taken either path," he said. "But I recognized there were tremendous opportunities for geologists in the petroleum industry at that time, so I chose that fork in the road."
After completing a graduate degree in geology in 1976 Clark was offered a job by an independent petroleum company in Wichita, Kan., as an exploration geologist. For the next 10 years Clark worked for three independents in Wichita.
In 1986, when oil prices plummeted and the petroleum industry went into a tailspin, he was exploration manager for Rupe Oil Co.
"By the end of 1986 Rupe Oil decided to eliminate its entire exploration department and I suddenly found myself out of a job and looking at my options," he said.
When the layoffs finally came Clark said he felt more relieved than anything else.
"Of course, we saw this coming," he said. "The economic situation in the industry was so bad that every time you heard footsteps coming down the hall you were just waiting for the knock on the door. When it finally came it was a relief -- now we could move on and start making plans for our futures. You get your mind made up for you, but then you have to look at other opportunities.
"After the layoff I hung out my shingle and attempted to do consulting work," he continued. "It's hard to gauge how successful I was as a consultant at that time -- I guess if you had a few jobs you were considered successful. When I got into consulting I was just testing the waters. I knew that the economic situation in the oil business at that time was such that unless everything fell into place just right it wasn't going to be a long-term career move.
But Clark wasn't meeting his financial needs, and some clients weren't paying their bills, so he started doing some substitute teaching -- "and saw more opportunities for my future in that field," he said.
"I already had a teaching certificate so it was just a matter of taking a few courses to upgrade my status to active. I basically hit the ground running and applied for a position with the Wichita Public Schools."
Looking back, Clark laughs, "Once I got into working with the kids and realized they don't bite, I found my new career very enjoyable and rewarding. I never looked back."
As a secondary science teacher Clark was able to incorporate his knowledge, experience and love of geology into his work.
"In addition to the classic science curriculum, I did draw on my knowledge and interest to incorporate a strong geology unit into my classes," he said. "I took my students on field trips and other geologic oriented programs."
While teaching, Clark also worked to expand his knowledge and experience with computer technology, which led to his current position as technical support and training specialist with the Wichita school district.
Today he focuses his efforts on incorporating computer technology into every facet of the school district, with special emphasis on the use of technology in the classroom. In addition, Clark is an instructor at local universities. He has been a geology lab instructor as well as an instructor for the education departments.
"I mainly work with student teachers and conduct teacher workshops in the areas of technology.
"I've been lucky," he continued. "I wasn't forced to make a major career change and get an entirely new degree in another field. My background served me well when I was forced to make a transition in my career."
Looking back, he said it's difficult to say if he would ever want to return to the petroleum industry.
"I always keep my ear to the ground in the geologic community," he said. "I am still a member of the Kansas Geologic Society and stay as active as I can. I suppose if an opportunity to get back into the oil business came to my doorstep I would have to consider it.
"But at the same time," he said, "I would have to look long and hard at the stability factor in the industry."