KUEC 2019 graduate Suzi Ward is making the world a little safer by earning her professional science master’s in environmental assessment
Suzi Ward is a single mom of 15-year-old Cheyenne and she lives with her daughter, her boyfriend, Matt, and Nova who she calls “the spunkiest pitbull you’ll ever meet.” She works a full-time job as an environmental specialist in water pollution control with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. But it was her impressive capstone project for her Professional Science Master's in Environmental Assessment degree that pushed this 36-year-old mom to the top of the list of outstanding 2019 graduating students of KU Edwards Campus, according to her program advisor Terri Woodburn.
Her project addressed the ways to analyze the amount of microplastics found in biosolids from wastewater treatment. KU’s environmental studies programs, offered through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, draw upon natural or physical science training, project management experience and communication skills to solve environmental problems that affect the world. Learn more about Ward’s journey to advance her career as an environmental specialist.
Q: What is a typical day in your life like?
A: As an environmental specialist, I evaluate compliance with environmental regulations, conduct water quality investigations, and then write and write and write. Every day is a little different, but outside of work involves a combination of parenting, housework, time at the gym, school work, outdoor activities, and sometimes sleep.
Q: What makes you the happiest?
A: I am happiest when I’m active outside which usually means hiking or kayaking and if I’m lucky, climbing. Nature is wondrous so I make a lot of room in my life to experience it in whatever way possible.
Q: What motivates you?
A: I am very motivated by a desire I have to do my personal best, but ultimately the protection of the environment is an essential focus for me which has driven me personally, academically, and professionally.
Q: Why did you choose KUEC?
A: I was interested in the Environmental Assessment PSM because of the courses offered and the campus location, then I found out about the MetroKC rate [in-state tuition for KC Metro students] and I knew it was a fit.
Q: How did KUEC meet your personal and/or academic needs?
A: The Hawk’s Nest was integral when I was writing my capstone paper by allowing me to focus on writing away from my responsibilities at home. I also heavily relied upon the KUEC environmental research lab and the molecular biology lab when conducting my capstone research.
Q: How has your KUEC degree prepared you for the future?
A: There are so many ways! I’ll be more competitive in the job market, I have met other environmental professionals as students, instructors, and guest speakers, the courses have given me new perspectives on business and environmental protection, and most importantly the PSM has given me the confidence to consider other long-term goals.
Q: What was the most difficult part of earning your college degree and how did you overcome it?
A: Balancing a full-time job and school without sacrificing time with my daughter has been a huge challenge. I have had to manage priorities, accept help from friends and family, and live with a lot of late nights in order to be successful.
Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?
A: I never would have imagined conducting my own case study research on microplastics before my graduate studies and I am very proud of the work I’ve done. It really wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Terri Woodburn and the PSM. Thank you for being a part of my accomplishment!
Q: What is your favorite memory of your time at KUEC?
A: I enjoyed the higher-level discussions, critical thinking, debate and idea sharing that is part of the graduate experience.
Q: What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
A: I’ll stay in environmental protection, but I’m bursting with ideas for technical documents, development of courses and other projects that I plan on pursuing in addition to my current line of work.
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: A degree isn’t just a piece of paper or a GPA. You will learn skills and gain knowledge that you’ll apply in your personal and professional life so choose a field that motivates you to be your best and to have a positive contribution to society.