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Life Lessons: VDEQ internship gives Randolph student a taste of environmental science field

Alyssa Umberger '17

Alyssa Umberger ’17

One of the most important lessons Alyssa Umberger ’17 has learned about her chosen career field is that there are two completely different aspects of environmental science work. Sometimes environmental scientists spend extensive time outdoors, tracking air pollution and water quality. Other times, scientists sit at a desk writing permits and analyzing data. Thanks to her recent internship experiences, she’s confident she will be prepared for any job in the field.

Last summer Umberger shadowed a field agent for the Dauphin County Conservation District in Pennsylvania, and this spring she wrote water permits for municipal and industrial plants as an intern for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Lynchburg office.

“I think it’s especially vital for environmental science majors to do both kinds of internships because there’s not very many jobs where you can do one or the other,” she said. “It’s more of a combination of the two. You have to know about policy as well as the science in the field. It’s a lot more paperwork than you would think.”

Umberger was prepared for her internships thanks to the variety of classes she had taken at Randolph. As an environmental science major, she took a wide range of her favorite science-themed courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and math as well as classes on environmental policy.

“I wasn’t focusing on just one type of science like I would as a chemistry or biology major,” she said. “It was more diverse, which is what I was looking for.”

Umberger’s supervisor, Frank Bowman, was impressed with Umberger’s broad knowledge and grasp of the complex tasks the job entailed.

“She caught on very quickly and never needed a second explanation,” Bowman said. “All of us here write permits daily, but she was never here on back-to-back days and still remembered everything that she had done during her previous times here. I would not have expected someone, especially someone still in college, to pick up on this field as fast as she did.”

Further diversifying Umberger’s portfolio is her second major in French. She began studying the language in high school and decided to keep it up as her “fun class” in college. She was able to apply her skills from that major in a practical setting as well, by studying abroad at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest in Angers, France in 2015.

Her experiences have taught her that making connections with other professionals is key in any field.

“I think what I’ll take away most from Randolph is that the more you become involved and meet people and start networking, the more opportunities open for you,” she said. “I’ve had some great opportunities here, and it’s all because I’ve known professors or people involved in the community. They’ve given me chances to start doing things related to my career and what I want to do.”

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