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Welcome to the Ecosystem: Undergrad Enters the Web of Professional Biologists

Published: April 13, 2021

Biologists often remark on the inter-connectedness of creatures within an ecosystem. They sometimes compare the natural environment to one big network, with each piece affecting all the others.

Environmental biology major Sandrine Umuhoza 20 is learning that network also applies to environmental biologists.

Sandrine (center) was one of three GU students to attend the Sustainability Summit at Merry Lea this February, hosted by Goshen College in Indiana. The GU trio and students from several other universities attended presentations about sustainability, led by environmental biologists.

Sandrine met several presenters and soon found a common theme: success as an environmental biologist involves, by and large, forming strong professional networks.

  • She heard this from the Hoosier Environmental Council employee who networks with government officials to talk about environmental laws.
  • She heard it from the presenter who is trying to build school curriculum involving more outdoor playtime, and forges connections in the education world.
  • She heard it from the health clinician who collaborates with a large hospital network to run a healthy eating education program.

And she experienced it herself when she inquired about job search pointers. Her resume quickly traveled the web of professionals by email, generating a flurry of contacts from biologists asking about her desired career trajectory.

Sandrine was grateful to have stepped into that network. The conference was a good place to get connected, she says.

A Nudge From Prof Nord

Sandrine has her biology professor, Eric Nord, to thank for making her aware of the conference and opening the door to these connections.

Its good to take advantage of the big network, says Nord, as environmental biology careers seldom travel in a straight line.

A few [environmental biology graduates] may be able to hire on with an organization or agency right out of school and stay with it, he says. But it is not unusual for students to engage in seasonal work for a year or so after graduationit is good to be flexible, and open to a range of opportunities.

And for a range of opportunities, you need a range of contacts.

Because the world of environmental biology overlaps with many other disciplineslaw, healthcare, education, agriculture, conservation management, and moreNord tries to prepare his students to engage with people from all disciplines. In his Environmental Science and Stewardship course, he and students often discuss environmental science as an interdisciplinary field.

GUs environmental biology program also requires eight credits of practicum experience that connect students with professionals well before graduation. These practicums bolster student resumes and help students secure those early opportunities that may see them through the years before they find a permanent career path.

A liberal arts curriculum gives these students an advantage too, because theyre already learning to engage subject matter outside their areas of expertise.

Part of the Ecosystem

Sandrine is thankful that GU opened opportunities like the Sustainability Summit to help launch her into the field.

I met some really cool people [at the summit], she says. Poised to finish her degree in May, shell turn her attention to the emails lining her inbox inquiring about her job search. She hopes to work in environmental education someday, or possibly with a nature conservancy, ideally in her home country of Rwanda.

One way or another, shes now part of the environmental biologist ecosystem, courtesy GU connections.

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