Interview with Environmental Studies Graduate, Colleen Wilkins

Interview with Environmental Studies Graduate, Colleen Wilkins

Ms. Colleen Wilkins
Environmental Studies Graduate
California State University, Fullerton

1) What are you doing, or what do you plan to be doing soon, in your career?

I am currently working for the Environmental Health and Instructional Safety office of Cal State Fullerton. My job mostly entails all aspects of Occupational Safety--personal protective devices to ergonomics. I am also involved in working with the campus Emergency Prepardness Coordinator on various aspects of emergency preparedness/management. This entails training of Building Marshals, planning evacuation drills for campus, and having a seat in the Emergency Operations Center.

2) Are you glad that you pursued an Environmental Studies degree

Yes. My BS is in Natural Resources and Environmental Education (this included a teaching certificate) with a minor in Geology. After the opportunity for more schooling was offered to me, I was originally working toward a second BS in Geology. This choice was a less than satisfactory way of making a career (I was laid-off from a job with a major oil company). I found the Masters program in Environmental Studies after exploring for other options in the University course/dept catalog. The ES program is interdisciplinary and allows a student to emphasize Environ Science, Education, or Policy/Planning.

The Director of the program suggested to me a class in Emergency Management taught by a Public Administration professor. It was also a 500 level class needed for my study plan. This proved to be my most interesting class and afforded me some other contacts for internships, professional affiliations, and my current job. This professor is still one of my closest professional friends.

3) Is there anything that you wish you had done differently with your education?

As it turned out, I moved away from the Environmental Science emphasis and into the Policy/Planning, which led me to a better understanding of the politics of my job. My education garnered me enough of a hard science background to understand all the laboratory issues that discussed on a campus and to understand how natural disasters can affect our region. Mostly, pursuing a Masters gave me increased confidence to do training and skills in research.

I am still interested in Geology, although rock collecting is a hobby. More interesting to me is horticulture--I have been considering becoming a Master Gardener.

4) Do you have any advice for prospective students considering an environmental field?

My husband also has an MS in Environmental Studies. However, his Bachelors in is Economics and so in his best interest he also received an MA in Economics. The two fields can work together very well as far as discussions on policy making, government action, etc. While my husband did well in Chemistry, he does not have a strong science background--ie Biology and I think that stymied his environmental sciences growth. I am not very good in Chem or Math, for information relating to that I need to see my co-workers. Prospective students need to have those basics, and then other courses to see the big picture including a really good understanding of ecology, basic geology, perhaps some understanding of environmental law, and activism. If they can see where they might like to head for a career, then add classes in other disciplines. Since most Bachelor's programs are pretty prescribed, they should be prepared to go for a Masters and maybe a Doctorate. A friend who pursued a PhD in Urban Planning is now working on international issues.

I would suggest getting involved with science issues and jobs--this seems to be the case with many of my friends who have science backgrounds. Also, while I enjoyed Cal State Fullerton's interdisciplinary approach, the fact that Environmental Studies is a Program and not a department has some pitfalls. I would suggest prospective students find schools where the ES has departmental standing with dedicated faculty.

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