Alumni Spotlight – Erin Andersen, MS/MPA ’20, VET Environmental Engineering

Name: Erin Andersen

Organization: VET Environmental Engineering

Position: Environmental Scientist

Location: Bloomington, Indiana

Alma Mater: IU’s O’Neill SPEA program (MS/MPA, 2020) and PLNU San Diego (BS, 2014)

  • Can you tell our students a little bit about yourself and the work that you do?

I have an undergraduate degree in environmental science but took a few years off prior to attending IU’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. I worked for a coffee company brewing kombucha, traveled through the states, volunteered with conservation and ecological organizations, and built trails at Grand Teton National Park. Now, I have a better idea of what I like to do, and an idea of the work I can do which involves that. It was also helpful gaining real-world skills in the three employment arenas (public, non-profit, for-profit) as early as possible into my career, also for ruling out what I did and did not prefer in my working days.

I currently work at a local, “boutique” environmental consulting firm. Work includes writing and maintaining permits, overseeing contaminant removal, and providing client representation to regulatory agencies, among other tasks. I believe a smaller firm is enjoyable because you can get involved on projects in ways not possible within a big firm. I studied Environmental Chemistry, Toxicology, and Risk Assessment at O’Neill, which gave me the regulatory and chemical knowledge and quantitative assessment experience that I use today.

  • What did your professional journey look like from college to your position today?

It was winding. I didn’t end up where I had imaged right off the bat. I thought I would go back to Wyoming and work on conservation easements in Idaho and Wyoming with a company I volunteered with out there. However, I ended up on a PhD track with an atmospheric chemistry lab after one summer of research. I learned a lot in that position and now recommend any STEM student to get involved in a lab. I learned how scientists make discoveries and use automation to simplify their tasks. My fiancé and I started a family, which led my priorities to shift again. I am thankful for the mentors and employers who took a chance on me. I learned plans change, and to take any opportunity to learn more.

  • What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow your career path?

Everyone’s path is different. For students looking to get into the environmental field, I recommend being creative and open-minded with your work choices. If you have an interest, research it, and see what’s available! People are usually willing to help you if you’re willing to reach out. If you can apply yourself at whatever you find, maintain a curious outlook, and keep thinking of “what’s next”, you’ll be successful in your own way. Grad school is challenging, but O’Neill will prepare you well if you’re willing to get involved in and outside of school as well as doing coursework.

  • What trends do you see on the horizon in this type of career?

There are releases all the way from the industrial revolution up until 1970 and beyond due to the lack of environmental regulations. People dumped in rivers, buried old drums and petroleum tanks, and generally allowed contaminants to move into the subsurface. That constitutes a lot of clean-up work by consultants and regulatory agencies around the country.

Now that there are laws and regulatory standards, there will be more preventative work for consultants in the future. That’s a big chunk of our work here already—we write Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPPs) and Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCCs). So, applying prevention tactics, cleaning up and preventing emerging contaminants not currently regulated, and employing nonharmful alternatives is probably what the future of environmental work holds.

  • Our school’s motto is “Lead for the Greater Good,” what does this mean to you?

“…wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.” – Kurt Vonnegut… That’s true for O’Neill alum, too. In my personal life, it means to remember what I learned, and share it with others.

If you’re interested in connecting with Erin, you can find her LinkedIn here!

By Elizabeth Gawron
Elizabeth Gawron Assistant Director of Career Services