Rockford native, Cora Wessman has been in Central Illinois for nearly a decade earning her bachelor's and Master's degree at the University of Illinois. Wessman also worked with the Water Survey as a student researcher and eventually learned about the many areas of the survey, leading up to her new role as the Illinois Water Inventory Program (IWIP) coordinator.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at PRI.
I have been working for the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) for about four years now. I first started as a field researcher for the surface water section, testing dissolved oxygen levels in Illinois waterways. Once that project ended, I moved over to the groundwater section and started working with the IWIP working with water operators to collect and monitor high-capacity water use data across the state.
What drew you to your particular area of study?
The human dimension side of environmental science has always been an interest of mine. Understanding how people interact with and impact natural resources is vitally important as we try to build a more sustainable future. I love that I get to be a part of that goal!
What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
A big challenge I’ve faced throughout my career is being a woman in a field that is historically dominated by men. Before working with PRI, I worked in environmental restoration where I was one of three women in a section of 18 people, and I constantly felt like I had to prove my worth as a scientist to others.
Tell us a little about the journey of being hourly and now hired full-time at the ISWS.
I started graduate school around the same time I was hired as an hourly research assistant for the IWIP program. By day I would work at the ISWS and at night I would take classes towards my Master's degree. I did this for about three years, and over time I was able to learn many different areas of the program and even started becoming a "regular face" for the water operators we contact. It was almost fate that by the time I was completing my Master's program, the IWIP coordinator position opened up. It is a very neat experience to work with the program and learn its inner workings for so long, and then eventually get the opportunity to oversee the program myself. It has become something I am very passionate about, and I hope to see the program grow for years to come.
What’s it like doing this job in the middle of a pandemic?
Everyone has been very adaptive to the new remote aspects of work. I personally enjoy the little bit of extra freedom that a hybrid work schedule allows. If I work from home, cooking lunch is a real treat! There are much fewer peanut butter & jelly sandwiches in my life now.
What advice would you give to those just starting out in your field?
Someone will always know something that you don't know. Never be afraid to ask for help.