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MC grad merges disciplines as an environmental consultant

By Barry McNamara
In a role reversal, Jennifer Campbell Young ’91 sits at the head of the class during a forum in the Center for Science & Business, fielding a question from her former professor, Craig Watson, whom she credits for getting her started as a writer during her days as a Monmouth student.
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The growth that started in a creative writing class at Monmouth College has led to a fulfilling career for Jennifer Campbell Young, a 1991 graduate who returned to campus last month to encourage students about opportunities in environmental consulting.

Some of Young’s career-defining projects have included working with a development project in Ventura County, Calif., where she managed empirically designed studies and population monitoring surveys for the federal candidate and state endangered San Fernando Valley spineflower (SFVS).
Young authored the listing package for SFVS for the state Fish and Game Commission, which remains the basis for the biology and ecology provided by the state for that taxon. She also managed the design and implementation of hydrological and biological monitoring programs developed to avoid impacts to surface resources on the San Bernadino Forest and adjacent tribal lands from tunnel construction for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Employed by PSOMAS, a mid-size engineering firm in downtown Los Angeles, Young holds the position of project manager/senior biologist and serves as an associate. 
“I really make my living as a technical writer,” said Young, who had some of her first memorable experiences with writing in a course taught by English professor Craig Watson. “You have to tell the story of what the data is telling you, but write it in a compelling way. The writing is key. You’ve got to learn to write. I wasn’t good at it when I first started writing at Monmouth, but I just got better and better at it through the years.”
That academic progress is only one of several elements of Young’s education that were of interest to Monmouth students. Others included:

• a study abroad experience that enhanced her Monmouth education, greatly improving her communication skills;

• a love of learning that enabled her to add to her academic résumé with graduate studies in ecology;
• combining the disciplines of her English major at Monmouth with her expertise in botany to become a highly successful technical writer on environmental issues;
• her current exploration of the business-science interactions available in environmental consulting. 

As a high school student, Young discovered Monmouth through the Presbyterian church in her hometown of Duncan, Okla.

“I knew I wanted to attend a four-year, liberal arts college, and that I wanted to branch out from Duncan,” she said. “I visited campus and loved it.”

Young intended to major in biology, but got off to a slow start with an 8 a.m. chemistry class in the fall of her freshman year.

“I wasn’t academically prepared to take that class,” recalled Young, who continued to stay on the science track until midway through her sophomore year. “I was struggling, and I remember thinking, ‘Maybe science isn’t for me.’ Looking back, I just wasn’t the right age for it.”
Outside the classroom, Young was active in her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and the college choir. She also participated in an Associated Colleges of the Midwest off-campus study program in Washington, D.C.
“I fell in love with D.C.,” she said. “I knew that after graduation, I wanted to live either there or Chicago.”
Chicago won out, and it was there where Young began thinking about science again.
“I put myself through an exercise,” she said. “I went to the library, and I asked myself, ‘How do I want to live my life, both professionally and outside of work?’ I wanted to work in the field, and I wanted to live in the city. As I answered these big questions about work, I was drawn toward ecology, so I volunteered at the Lincoln Park Zoo and at a prairie preserve. The wildlife restoration was fabulous – I was sold.”

Intentionality came into play again, as she studied her options for graduate work in ecology.

“There were opportunities in the field of restoration ecology at UW-Madison, and everywhere in California,” she said. “I chose California.”
She received a transfer from her day job at WBBM Radio to the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. After laying her groundwork in science with courses at Cal State-Fullerton, she eventually settled at San Diego State University, receiving a master’s degree in biology, 
Young presented a forum while on campus, seeking to motivate students about the future in environmental consulting.

“I told them to take a look at this field – that there’s a place for them in it,” she said.

Environmental science majors at Monmouth have a wide variety of options. The interdisciplinary major, which features courses from at least eight different departments, can lead to an environmental policy track, as well as an environmental science major with a specific focus on biology, chemistry or physics. Additionally, all participants in the program are required to complete an independent research project.