Environmental Sciences Alumni Spotlight: Katie Thomas

Each semester, the Environmental Sciences Academic Program highlight alumni who represent the diverse and involved alumni population that graduated from our program. This Fall the spotlight focuses on, Katie Thomas.

Name: Katie Thomas

Katie Thomas with a dragonfly on her finger.

Graduation Year: May 2015

Focal Area: Natural Resources- Ecosystem Assessment (I was a double major in ES and NR)

1. How did your experience at NC State help you find a job after graduation? What initial steps did you take when you were looking for a job?

I actually got really lucky and was offered a Research Assisantship with Bob Abt to pursue a Master’s degree after graduation. I took his class my senior year, really enjoyed it, and developed a good relationship with him. When the opportunity to pursue a project came up he reached out to me. My project is heavily focused on ecosystem service markets, something I learned about in my environmental science and natural resource classes. I’m trying to determine if there is a relationship between private property characteristics and the ability of that land to participate in different ecosystem service markets. So far I’ve made contacts in many of the conservation organizations (The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, The Forestland Group, etc.) and worked with some private landowners to explore the opportunities they have to enroll their land in different markets. It’s been really interesting and I’m thinking it’s the area I’ll try to go into for my career when I finish.
This past summer I was a participant in the NASA DEVELOP National Program. This program uses satellite imagery to explore different kinds of environmental issues. I’ve only just started, but it’s going to be a great opportunity for me to build my remote sensing, coding, and professional skills!

2. Did having a degree in ES and your focal area open the door to more opportunities than you initially expected?

Definitely! I realized how many opportunities there could be for me when I was trying to decide on my focal area, and because of that it took me awhile to really decide which one I wanted to pursue. I tried out a few paths by taking classes in the different areas before ultimately deciding on Natural Resources. This opened a lot of doors for me in the world of environmental conservation. I can work for a government agency like the U.S. Forest Service or Fish and Wildlife, a Non-Profit, or even a Non-Governmental Organization. I could do research on different environments or species, work with landowners to determine the best way to protect their land for future generations, or work in a more urban area to better integrate humans with the natural environment. There’s so many great options, I’m still not sure where I’ll end up but I’m excited to try whichever ones I can.

3. If you decided to not continue your education upon graduation, do you plan to return to school? If yes, what do you plan to study?

See question 1. I’m still in school and happy to have the opportunity! I’m not sure I’ll go on to pursue a Ph.D, but that’s a decision I’ll make after I’ve been part of the workforce for awhile.

4. Name a class you took at State that you took the most away from?

The class I took the most away from while at N.C. State was probably Conservation Biology with George Hess. That was the class that sparked my interest in natural resources and conservation. It was also my first higher level class which was definitely a big change from the intro and general freshman/sophomore classes I had been in. There was a lot more teamwork, discussions, and writing than I had been doing so far, so I struggled in some ways. However, I think having that my first year of school really helped me succeed in my later years when that style class became more commonplace. Dr. Hess was also a great professor and has been super helpful to me throughout my college career. My experience with him was what showed me how useful it was to speak with professors and it was something I tried to do more of after taking his class.

5. While you were at State what was your biggest challenge (e.g. A class)?

My biggest challenge while I was at state was definitely the first Physics class for engineers. At the time I was considering doing a focal area in environmental engineering so I took PY 205 in order to pursue that. It was one of the hardest classes I had to take at State, and definitely the first class I really struggled in. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the material. Luckily, I made a bunch of friends in the class (people who ended up becoming my best friends) who helped me scrape by. It taught me how important it is to ask for help in a class when you’re struggling. The longer you wait to ask, the harder it will be for you to catch up. I got close to my friends later in the semester so I definitely had some catching up to do. I appreciate the patience they had with me to this day and try to remember to have the same patience when I’m trying to help someone else on a difficult subject. So, even though the class was hard for me, it was also one of the most rewarding because not only did I pass, I made lifelong friends in the process.

6. What major piece of advice would you give to the Freshman class?

Aside from putting yourself out there to make friends, my biggest piece of advice to the freshman class would be to never burn a bridge. You never know who’s going to help you get a job in the future. Just because you don’t like a professor or classmate very much doesn’t mean you can’t be professional with them. Getting jobs after school is often more about who you know, not what your grades were in school. The more people you have looking out for you the better.

7. Why did you decide to be a part of the ES program? What attracted you to it?

I was attracted to the Environmental Sciences program because it was one of my favorite classes in high school. I liked how many topics the area covered and how it could apply to many different situations. When I really got into the program at State I loved the flexibility the program had and how broad the core curriculum was. The broad curriculum only added to the flexibility because it opened up lots of different pathways for my focal area. It was the perfect opportunity to gain a broad understanding of many relatable topics, while still having a specialty.