Alumni Spotlight | March 2016
KU major: Environmental Studies, Class of 2014
Current occupation: GIS Analyst
Research mentor while at KU: Robert Hagen
Describe the undergraduate research experience that you had while at KU: I did a survey of the Ash tree population on the University of Kansas's campus to provide preliminary data for conservation efforts against the Emerald Ash Borer. I hate to sound cliché, but undergraduate research was one of the best academic and professional choices I made at KU. So many doors opened for me when I chose to be involved in research, that my only regret was to not start it sooner. The best part of the experience for me was not the grant money that is readily given out to so many different students, but it was the experience that I am able to use and reference when an employer asks me about any independent and group projects. The interview process for my current job felt much easier and fluid since I could reference all of the applicable experience that I gained form undergraduate research.
Q: What do you think was the most important thing you learned while doing undergraduate research?
A: Something that I learned from the undergraduate research experience that I still use to this day is, whether you know a lot or incredibly little about a topic or subject, never refrain from at least trying to get involved. After I began to get involved in clubs and organizations outside of class, I realized that there are much more enjoyable and tangible learning experiences to gain from the university outside of the coursework.
Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates who might be interested in doing research or creative scholarship?
A: Why even hesitate? There are an abundant amount of resources at the university that are literally there to help you succeed. So no matter whether it's an issue of time, money, or a lack of experience, all it takes is some motivation and the rest of it will fall into place. Plus, getting those awards couldn't hurt to use for school, rent or any issue that could prevent you from excelling.
Q: Do you use any of the skills or perspectives gained doing research in your current occupation? How so?
A: For me, undergraduate research was not solely about studying and learning about one specific idea or concept, it was learning how to reach out to people when you may not understand how to do something or how something might work. It showed me that even though it is considered "independent research," it will require you to collaborate and work with other people to create a final product. Above all, it taught me "real-world" professional and interpersonal skills revolving around a subject that I truly cared about.
Q: Many undergraduate researchers are making decisions about what to do after they graduate from KU. Having been in those shoes, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then? Do you have any advice?
A: Having a 4.0 GPA is something that very few and fortunate people will be able to experience and hopefully they will be able to apply those grades to their career field, but for the rest of us, that's not the case. Having more tangible skills and experiences to reference and put on my resumé is what ultimately got me the job where I happily am now. Being able to pull from my internships and undergraduate research experience gave me the ability to explain to my employer about a real project that I was able to start from the beginning and see through to the end.