Q. When did you start working for the Prairie Research Institute?
I started working for the Illinois Geological Survey back in 1984 when I first moved to Champaign when my husband Tom was hired by the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS). I worked on a joint project with the Illinois Natural History Survey and ISWS on determining research needs for Lake Michigan. I got to travel around to all of the universities and agencies that were studying various aspects of the lake—fisheries, beach erosion, wetlands, water quality, etc.—and compiled a large bibliography of all publications on Lake Michigan for the past 50 years and a summary of all ongoing projects. That culminated in a Lake Michigan Conference up in Chicago. Then after a hiatus to raise our three daughters and working for several years for the Unit 4 School District, I was hired by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center in 2006 to assist with the sponsored research program.
Q. What is your field of study, and what drew you to that field?
A. I have a B.A. in biology and chemistry from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and an M.S. in oceanography and limnology (the study of lakes and other bodies of freshwater) from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I always loved science from the time I was young and I also liked the outdoors. I grew up going to our family’s cottage on a lake in northern Wisconsin, snorkeling and fishing, and decided I wanted to do something to help preserve lakes and the environment. I had the opportunity while I was at Luther College to work two summers on the Mississippi doing studies of the backwater lakes and islands, and that helped me decide to go to UW-Madison to continue to do research on lakes and rivers.
Q. What is the best part of your job?
A. I like the variety. I get to stay in touch with research by reviewing projects submitted for funding from our Sponsored Research Program and also I collaborate on a couple research projects here at ISTC on water quality. Then I am also now in charge of public engagement activities for ISTC, such as the planning our Sustainability Seminar series, coordinating outreach at sustainability fairs or events, and organizing conferences and workshops. This connects me to my interest in education and helping students, teachers, and the general public become more aware of environmental issues and what they can do to help as well as also communicating with researchers at the conferences. I also enjoy mentoring students in their interest in science.
Q. What project are you most proud of?
A. I have enjoyed working on many projects over the years but I would say a very important one to me now is the joint work I am doing with others here at ISTC and with lllinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) on research, education, and outreach related to the issues about pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the environment. We are looking at their impacts on both environmental health, such as deleterious effects on aquatic species, and on human health, such as antibacterial resistance. [ISTC and IISG are co-organizing a conference on Emerging Contaminants in the Aquatic Environment, which will be held May 31-June 1 in Champaign, Illinois.]
Q. What advice would you give to other female scientists?
A. To young girls interested in science I would say to not let your love for science fade in middle school or high school and to continue to pursue it even if others might not understand your passion for it. We need scientists, both male and female, to study all of the different aspects of the world, be it diseases or pollution, or better understanding of ocean currents or what life might be on other planets. For other women in science now, it is important that we demonstrate that women can be in many different fields. Also we can be role models for other women who want to also go into science and help them in their careers when possible.
I was very inspired after reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, especially her perseverance when others doubted her. I felt it showed that we need to do all we can to preserve the earth and all species.