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Ruyle, Zumpf show diversity of major, from fish in Illinois to elephants in Tanzania

If “Fighting Scots” Caleb Ruyle and Colleen Zumpf were asked, “Do you want to step outside?,” their answer would be an emphatic “Yes!”

The two Monmouth College seniors cited their lifelong love of the outdoors as the reason they chose to major in environmental science. When they look into post-graduate opportunities, they hope the sun is shining on them, both literally and figuratively.  

“I am thankful to Monmouth College for allowing me the opportunity to study a subject that I truly enjoy,” said Ruyle, who came to MC from Routt Catholic High School in Jacksonville and is a member of the baseball team. “Hopefully, studying environmental science will lead me into a career where I can put my love of the natural world to use and have a significant impact on the lives of both humans and wildlife.”

Ruyle said the type of wildlife conservation position he’s seeking often requires a master’s degree.

“Because of that and because I would really like to enjoy college for a couple more years, I’m interested in attending the University of Illinois and pursuing a master’s degree in natural resources and environmental sciences.”

Ruyle said he has been “an avid fisherman since I could walk,” and Zumpf also goes back to her childhood when explaining her love of the outdoors.

“Nature itself, to me, is just so interesting that I can’t help but take the extra few minutes to look at everything just a little bit closer,” said the product of Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort, who has excelled in softball and swimming at Monmouth. “I’m one for detail, so to use a nature metaphor, I see the individual trees instead of the whole forest.”

Zumpf was no typical youth. While her peers often felt the need to be exposed to music nearly 24/7 while lying by the pool, riding in a car or talking a walk with their headphones in, Zumpf preferred a different soundtrack.

“I was always the one that would rather sit in silence with the windows down when I drive or just listen to the chatting birds in our evergreens around our pool in the backyard as I worked,” she said. “There were times when I didn’t really have any place to go, but I just wanted to get out of the house. I would walk in a big circle around the house several times just looking at all the flowers and random weeds poking out of the rock and trying to find where the cardinal is sitting in the mess of trees behind the house. I wouldn’t think or talk, but I would just marvel at everything around me.”

Naturally, Zumpf added, “The only major that I could see myself actually enjoying in terms of the classes I would need to take in school, as well as the career paths that it led to, was environmental science.”

The more she learns through her studies, the more opportunities she sees.

“With the environment beginning to seep into a lot of other disciplines both nationally and globally, there are a lot of big questions that are being asked that are not so easy to answer,” she observed. “Because of this, I’ve learned to appreciate both society’s and nature’s complexity, and that has inspired me to want to put in the time and the effort to figure out how best these two worlds intertwine.”

One way they intertwine, she said, is the practice of “going green.”

“In the environmental politics course I took this spring, we learned that it can be profitable for companies to say they are ‘going green.’ Architects are building greener buildings and designing greener cities and neighborhoods.”

While Monmouth College continues to promote the integration of business and science, Zumpf also learned how the two disciplines come into conflict.

“In my economics class, I finally understood the economic vs. environment argument,” she said. “GDP growth that allows for economic growth requires that the capital ‘C’ of consumption continues to feed the system, but environmentalists say we need to reduce our consumption in order for the planet and our descendants to have a future.”

In the short term, Zumpf is going to participate in an Associated Colleges of the Midwest program in Tanzania, where her research will focus on elephant digestion on the seed germination of acaci trees. Her first MC research project, which she’s already completed, looked at the effects of an organic fertilizer on plum trees and the surrounding soil. After receiving her diploma next spring, she is considering graduate school.

“One of the main reasons that I want to go to grad school as well as to Tanzania for the ACM program, was because of the research opportunities,” she said.

Zumpf isn’t quite sure where she will wind up – possibly botanic field research – but that is part of the attraction of the environmental science major, she said.

Ruyle said he made the decision to commit to environmental science during his freshman year, switching from his declared choice of biology.

“I have always been an avid outdoorsman, and environmental science allows me to better explore my interest in nature, wildlife, the environment, and all of the interaction between them,” he explained. “So far, Field Zoology has been my favorite class. All of the labs consisted of interacting with different types of animals in several different ways, including observation and trapping. We even took a weekend trip to southern Illinois to study reptiles, which was one of the best experiences I have had at Monmouth.”

During the upcoming academic year, Ruyle will work with associate professor of biology Kevin Baldwin, researching the effects of the pharmaceutical Zoloft on fish reaction time.

Like Zumpf, Ruyle has a passion for the major and recommends it to students as “a great program to study at Monmouth. There is the option to pursue a concentration in science or policy. A policy concentration allows students to explore the economic and political aspect of environmental science and a science concentration allows students to take more biology classes and focus on the actual science of the field.”

Ruyle chose the science concentration but has also taken some policy courses and has become very interested in the business side of environmental science, so much so that he has picked up a minor in business administration.
When asked to give advice about her major to high school seniors or freshmen just entering college, Zumpf said, “I would tell them that they don’t necessarily have to have the ultimate goal to save the planet or be the best recycler in the world. But if they have a passion for – or at least an interest in – community or problem solving or understanding how the natural world functions from the micro level to the macro level, then becoming an environmental science major is the way to go. You make the major what you want it to be.”