Water for Food

Students examine professional development for today’s water economy

May 10, 2017

Interns Alivia Michalski (left) and Shelby Wolfe speak to Water for Food Global Conference attendees about their semester-long professional development project during a showcase exhibiting student and intern work on Monday, April 10, 2017 at Nebraska Innovation Campus.

By Aude Gaju Ngoga, Shelby Wolfe and Alivia Michalski, interns

A developing project led by interns at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute aims to better understand the professional development needed for success in this sector. In addition to researching specific jobs and their availability, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln students also set out to better understand how college students can gain key experiences and skills that will make them more competitive in the water sector job market. Over the last few months, the DWFI team has been interviewing personnel at companies and organizations across the state.

After interviewing five professionals over the course of the semester, DWFI interns Shelby Wolfe, Aude Gaju Ngoga and Alivia Michalski reflected on their experiences.

The major take-away from the interviews was the emphasis on students gaining skills beyond hydrology, engineering, environmental and water classes. Skills in business, management, communication, public speaking and Geographic Information System (GIS) were all cited as benefits in the workplace.

As part of their research, the interns visited with staff at more than five organizations, including the Nebraska Association of Natural Resources Districts (NARD), Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, National Drought Mitigation Center and others.

NARD Executive Director Dean Edson shared his view about the importance of developing effective communication skills. “[At a global conference] I have found myself speaking to an international audience on water resource management where interpreters were repeating what I was saying in 13 different languages,” he said. “The finances, the speaking and the communication skills — they are going to be vital to every student, no matter what career field they get in.”

Other Interviewees recommended school club involvement, internships and other extra-curricular opportunities that could help students define their interests and develop contacts for career opportunities.

“You can’t just be under a shell and expect to do great things,” said Frank Albrecht, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission planning and programming division assistant administrator. “If you want something bad enough, you have to go out and get it. It is not handed to you.”

Each intern shared a comment from one of their interviews and how it was meaningful to them:

Aude Gaju Ngoga, integrated science major:

“In water resources, some [of the curriculum] is very technical. While others…it’s all soft engineering. So, the engineering curriculum, for me, was a good way of making you think. You think very linearly, very structurally, very analytically. But the skills that I should have had in college, that I never took, were writing and speech; public communication.”
—Jeff Fassett, director, Nebraska Department of Natural Resources

I did not understand why I was required to take a communication class at the beginning of my college studies. This interview showed me how communication skills are crucial to being well rounded and ready for any challenge that I might face in the job market.

Shelby Wolfe, journalism major:

“We’re roughly split 50/50 between the physical sciences and the social sciences, so I think that’s one thing that makes our center pretty unique. We’re not just all climatologists and hydrologists. We have sociologists and people with backgrounds in economy, geography and anthropology. It’s a really diverse staff.”
—Mark Svoboda, director, National Drought Mitigation Center

As a journalism major interested in sustainability, I’ve learned why it’s important that research fields intersect with communication fields. I found Mark’s information on academic diversity enlightening, in that employers in natural resource management are looking to hire people not only with environmental science backgrounds, but also those with communication backgrounds.

Alivia Michalski, environmental studies major & communication studies minor:

“I think [if you might attend graduate school] and specialize in something, you should be more general in your [undergraduate studies]. I was very focused on landscaping when I was in undergrad even though [I knew] that I was going to grad school. I wish I had a better rounded degree, knowing that I was going to go to grad school.”
—Ryan Chapman, Wellhead Protection Program Coordinator, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality

People seem skeptical about what I can accomplish with an environmental studies degree. Ryan’s insight on specialization affirmed my decision. My choice gives me the opportunity to study topics like soil science, cultural perspectives on the environment and even environmental law. Ryan’s view was reassuring to me as someone who’s not sure what career path to choose. I may choose to specialize in graduate school, but for now I can explore a broad scope of subjects that interest me.

Shelby Wolf

Alivia Michalski

Aude Gaju Ngoga

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