Nicole Kozlowski is an Environmental Policy and Management alumna whose passion for the environment started at a young age. Her journey has taken her from working as a biologist to becoming more involved in environmental research and protection. We asked Nicole about her experiences working in the field, why she decided to pursue a master’s degree, what her long-term goals are, and advice she has for those wanting to work in the field.
Q: What inspired you to have a career in the environmental field?
Since childhood, I was fascinated with the abundance of plants and wildlife all over the globe. I always knew I wanted to work in the field of science in some capacity. Even though I grew up in the city of Chicago, my parents insisted we always have a fruit and vegetable garden in our tiny backyard. We also had a lake house in Wisconsin where we spend weekends and summers fishing, swimming, and hiking. I was always surrounded by wildlife and immersed in nature. It was only until working offshore on a research vessel and learning more about the earth’s processes that I realized my appreciation for nature was more deeply rooted in environmental preservation.
Q: What was your first job in the field? What have you done since?
My first paid job in the field was as a Benthic Ecologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). In a series of moves throughout the SCDNR, I was also a Wildlife Biologist and a Fisheries Biologist. I left South Carolina in 2013 and worked a few odd jobs before becoming employed with the National Park Service from 2015-2017. In August of 2017, I accepted a position with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) where I am currently an Environmental Specialist. I work with the Site Remediation Program within my department, where we ensure the timely cleanup and remediation of contaminated sites all over the state of New Jersey.
Q: What influenced you to get a master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Management?
As I continued to grow in my career working with wildlife, I had a deeper appreciation for the environment. I realized the value that a healthy environment has on the populations of plants and animals that I cared for so deeply. Without a clean and healthy environment, this incredible wildlife would cease to exist. It was sort of a calling for me to make a career switch out of the field of biology and delve more into the environmental research and protection aspect of science. I was out of school for about seven years before I decided to go back to pursue a master’s degree. I was open-minded and ready to learn more about a new field of study, and I don’t think I would have felt that way right out of getting my bachelor’s degree. I also feel more confident with my decision to go back to school when I did since I had worked so hard in the field that I initially thought I would be in for my entire career, yet my path evolved into something different. University College’s online offerings made it easy to be a working adult while simultaneously pursuing higher education.
Q: What experiences in your graduate program have you been able to apply to your career?
I do believe that the knowledge and experience I had with environmental regulations played a significant role in getting the position. I was able to speak confidently about the material I had learned through course work and really bring myself up to the interviewers’ technical level.
While studying at DU, I had to fine tune many “school-skills” as well since it had been a while since I was in such a learning environment. Things such as multitasking, time management, and comprehensive understanding of complicated technical materials like regulations were among some of those skills. Mastering these skills has been paramount in my success as I move forward in a new phase of my professional life.
Q: What are your long-term career goals?
I would like to continue climbing the ranks at the NJDEP, but hopefully return to more of a research track. Thankfully, now that I have a master’s degree I am eligible to apply for positions within my agency that require a higher degree, which are also more competitive. This will make me more marketable, as well as allow me to advance into roles that I want to be in professionally and financially.
Q: What advice would you have for someone trying to break into the field?
Put blinders on, and stick with it. If you have a goal you want to reach, stop at nothing until you get there. I wanted to be a “sharkiologist” when I was a child. I put blinders on, studied marine science and biology, and became a fisheries biologist not long after undergraduate completion. Working with sharks became nearly an everyday occurrence while I was in fisheries, and my initial goal was achieved. I’ve been setting goals and smashing them ever since. There will be many hurdles that will get in your way; always jump them and jump as high as you can.
Nicole completed her capstone this past March and graduated on June 8. Congratulations, Nicole!