Meet 2023 graduating class speaker Sean Babasin
Sean Babasin will be speaking at the afternoon commencement ceremony on December 16, 2023 at 2 p.m. at The Weidner.
RETESTING THE WATERS
Describing the journey through higher education is fraught with challenges—and clichés. “Choosing your path” is a common metaphor. Sean Babasin’s experience, however, is more akin to navigating a river, occasionally without a paddle. His path from California to Afghanistan and finally to academia at UW-Green Bay has been as winding as the course of a river itself; but illustrates that ultimately, we each have opportunities to shape our own destiny amidst life’s unpredictable turns.
“I grew up in the San Fernando Valley on the north side of the HOLLYWOOD sign.” Babasin recalls. He also remembers being fascinated by two things— water and the military. “In high school I had a chemistry class that had an emphasis on water quality and chemistry.” Babasin remembers “field trips” to the L.A. River, the famous concrete-lined waterway spanning much of the city which functions as a giant storm drain.
These experiences, he believes, were the source of his future career decisions. “Growing up in a region that deals with water scarcity like that motivated me to get into water,” he explains. Yet, there was one venture he was not prepared for at the time—college. He conveys, “My family begged me to do a year of community college, so I did that and decided that it wasn’t for me. I just always wanted to be in the military.”
His family didn’t have a military background, but another pivotal event charted his life’s direction. “When I was growing up, in middle school, I saw 9/11 happen. I was inspired to go into the service at that young age and do my part. I was always the kid wearing army shirts in high school.” Babasin reflects. His service took the form of joining the army, where he describes his role as “being your basic grunt.”
In the army, Babasin’s knack for distinguishing himself in a crowd, or rather in a platoon, became apparent. He was appointed as a Squad Designated Marksman (SDM) and a Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) during the 2010 troop surge into Kandahar City, Afghanistan. “I conducted about every type of mission you could imagine, from long-distance surveillance to ‘presence’ patrolling, to tracking cell phones and raiding High Value Targets—as close to a sniper as you can get without actually being a sniper,” he states. Following his discharge from the military, he found himself adrift, candidly recognizing the possibility of having nearly capsized his own dreams.
“I was just hopping around trying to find a place to make a living,” Babasin reflects on the period after his military service. He found himself in Mississippi, living in a trailer behind—and working at—a liquor store owned by family friends. It was then that a fellow veteran reached out to him. “A buddy that I had served with called me. He was living in a crappy apartment in Menasha. I was in a trailer behind a liquor store in Mississippi. We thought, why not join forces?”
Joining forces with his former comrade brought Babasin to the Fox Valley in 2016. However, he wasn’t quite ready to dive back into higher education. “I spent a couple of years in retail and then realized I could use my GI Bill to aim for something greater,” he said.
Babasin relaunched his academic journey in 2019 by completing an associate degree in environmental engineering and continuing on to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2021, focusing on environmental engineering with an eye toward a technical job. However, his professors and fellow students recognized his potential for more. “Sean’s academic rigor is unmatched,” observed John Luczaj, UW-Green Bay professor of Geoscience. “His work not only shines in quality but also sets a benchmark for his peers, embodying the very essence of a role model.”
As he transitioned from pursuing a practical role as a technician, Babasin expanded his aspirations toward a research-oriented career. In 2024, he plans to enroll in UW-Green Bay’s Master of Environmental Science & Policy program to work on a grant-funded project, exploring the intricacies of arsenic contamination near the Fox Cities.
Babasin attributes his academic achievements not to extraordinary intellect but to a lifelong habit of focusing on what’s important and paying attention to detail. For Babasin’s instructors, it is his boundless enthusiasm and curiosity that amplify his potential. “He’s genuinely passionate about his field of study,” Lucjaz points out. “His interests have broadened to include groundwater systems, which are vital both in northeastern Wisconsin and globally.”
Looking ahead, Babasin’s prospects appear promising. While his future might not flow as smoothly as water, it’s as vast as the polar ice caps and include a research career that could bring him to the most extreme environments. “I would really like to work in a research-oriented role that may send me to harsh places like Antarctica to study ice cores and such.” Or perhaps roles in contaminant remediation, maintaining water quality, or engaging in the front lines of the battle against climate change through monitoring and research. Maybe even a return to the concrete banks of the L.A. River, where he first launched his dreams.
For those pondering a similar dive back into college, Sean Babasin offers up a few tips for the trip. So grab your paddle, embrace the ebb and flow, and who knows? You might just find yourself riding the wave to unexpected shores
“It’s funny because if you’d asked me five years ago if I plan to go to college, I would have probably laughed at you. But I would say just do it. You never know what you’re capable of until you apply yourself. I know that sounds cliché, but…”
“Since high school. I just didn’t really know if I was up to the task. I always thought of myself as a weaker student, which clearly is not the case. No. But yeah, I mean, like I said, just a little more faith in yourself.”
“I hadn’t planned on going to graduate school but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Education keeps opening more doors for me.”