Environmental science degree fuels 2020 KUEC graduate’s desire to improve the lives of others

Rising Up at KUEC: In this Q & A series, outstanding 2020 KU graduates share how KU Edwards Campus has helped them start, advance or change their career. Meet Ian Fannin-Hughes.

Ian Fannin-Hughes

You may have seen this outstanding KU 2020 graduate in the news recently for managing a floating wetland project to reduce toxic algal bloom contamination in the South Park Lake in Overland Park, Kansas. As the city’s water quality specialist, Ian Fannin-Hughes is charged with managing clean water act compliance and championing sustainability projects for Overland Park, as well as developing partnerships with groups like the Mid-America Regional Council, Heartland Conservation Alliance and Deep Roots to improve water quality across the Kansas City metro.

With his Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Assessment, he’ll have the knowledge and skills to make a bigger impact on his community, one of his ongoing passions. The 29-year-old Topeka native received his double bachelor’s degrees in geography and environmental science from Kansas State University in 2014. He married his high school sweetheart seven years ago and is now at home in Overland Park raising two children — 6-year-old daughter, Avery, and 4-year-old son, Oliver. In 2016, Oliver was diagnosed with SMARD (Spinal Muscular Atrophy with Respiratory Distress Type 1).

“He currently has a trach and ventilator,” Fannin-Hughes said. “Besides all of that, he and his sister are best friends and now that he has his gait-trainer and power wheelchair, you can hardly keep up with him!”

Keeping up with Fannin-Hughes might also be challenging. Besides his work and family, Fannin-Hughes is a member of the KU Environmental Industry Board, the Kansas Water Environment Association, and the Air and Waste Management Association. Learn more about how he advanced his education at the KU Edwards Campus.

Q: What has been a typical day in your life like as a student attending KUEC?

A: My typical day always starts with the kids. Once they are up and fed, I take my daughter down the street to her kindergarten and help my wife load up my son for his preschool at Lee Ann Britain. From there, it's off to work which varies day to day depending on weather, meetings, season or project. So, any day I could be developing educational material, researching a new project or program, wandering through the streams gathering water quality data or speaking at community events.

Q: What makes you the happiest?

A: I am the happiest when I am able to share the things I love with my children. I love to garden, forage for mushrooms, camp, play music and write. I am happiest when I am able to share that love for nature and art with my son and daughter, even when they are frustratingly unenthusiastic.

Q: What motivates you?

A: What has motivated me the most in my career and life is the need to improve the lives of others. I feel a duty as a public servant to actively work to eliminate environmental justice issues in the K.C. Metro, while also strengthening the connection our community has to the natural world unique to our lives. I love working in local government when I can see the impact I have on people's lives and the environment.

Q: Why did you choose KUEC?

A: My decision to attend KUEC was driven largely by the cost of tuition and diversity of courses in the PSM-EA program. Especially important to me was the accessibility of courses online and faculty who were professionals and experts in the environmental industry.

Q: How did KUEC meet your personal and/or academic needs?

A: While I work full-time and raise two kids (one with a plethora of medical needs), I needed a program that I could attend that would meet my schedule demands and be flexible with my needs. KUEC has been exceptional, going beyond my expectations. I was able to learn at my own pace, attend courses online and in person when I was able, and connect with faculty and students better than I was able in my undergraduate program.

Q: How has your KU degree prepared you for the future?

A: KUEC and PSM-EA program gave me the skills in environmental science, project management, public administration and career development that I have used from day one of starting the program. The diverse courses and professional instructors also helped me network with industry and employers in the environmental field that I would not have been able to otherwise. I believe the decision to attend KUEC and get a PSM-EA has been the best decision I have ever made in my career.

Q: What was the most difficult part of earning your college degree and how did you overcome it?

A: The most difficult part of this degree was juggling work and family obligations with coursework. It was not easy, but Dr. Terri Woodburn [program director of environmental assessment], as well as instructors like Scott Schulte and Dr. Ben Wolfe were very accommodating and understanding of my unique situation. More importantly, I was able to excel in the program, meet all my course requirements, and never have to sacrifice time with my family or work requirements.

Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?

A: In my academic and professional career, the proudest moment was the completion of the “Community Resilience Plan for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.” This was my capstone project for the PSM-EA and took a tremendous amount of work to complete. I am proud of all the things I was able to learn and the professional and personal relationships I built working with the Nation.

Q: What is your favorite memory of your time at KUEC?

A: My favorite memories were the networking events our PSM-EA program held at Barley’s Brewhaus every semester. While I am a pretty introverted person, who does not generally like networking, by the third time attending these events, I was having a really good time. It was a great opportunity to talk with fellow students from across all walks of life, as well as environmental professionals who might just offer you a job.

Q: What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?

A: My goal is to continue working in government, as this is where I feel I can have the most impact on a person’s life and the community they live in. I love working in the water resource field and want to continue on expanding my expertise and impact across the K.C. metro. I also hope to continue working with the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation following my capstone project to continue learning from the Nation and build a more resilient community.

Q: What advice would you give others who are thinking of earning a degree, whether a first-time bachelor’s, a second bachelor’s or a master’s?

A: My advice for those looking at the PSM-EA program is to reach out to the program director and just let her know you are interested. There is no pressure to commit to anything, and I was able to try out a class as a non-degree seeking student first before officially attending the program. Secondly, motivation is key. Online classes are difficult (especially during a pandemic), but motivation and communication will be your best assets to be successful. Finally, seek out scholarships to help you pay for the program. I was lucky enough to have some funding available from my employer but was also awarded scholarships from organizations like the Kansas Water Environment Association and the Air and Waste Management Association. There are many more out there that can help you with your school and career goals.

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