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Student Spotlight: Jesse Morris Uses Environmental Science Background and Information Science Skills at Her ‘Dream Job’

Featured Student: Jesse Morris

Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

Education/Career Background

I got my undergraduate degree in life sciences and environmental studies from Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. After I graduated I did a couple of random things – I did some pharmaceutical research and was a GIS technician – and then I fell into being an environmental scientist for about 10 years.

Why information sciences?

I got to a point in my career where I knew I wanted to go further in my education and I was weighing my options.The obvious path was a master’s in ecology and to lean into the hard sciences. I wasn’t really into that kind of research, though, and I knew that wasn’t where my passion was; I knew what my passion was not, but I didn’t know what it was.

I started browsing UT’s website and it was this “aha” moment when I saw the SIS degree. I thought about the things that got me excited about my job, and it was connecting people with information. I loved science but it was connecting people with what they needed that I really love.

I like helping people do literature reviews or finding the data they need. When I saw the program, I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is what I’m after!” Combined with my science background, it was how I wanted to move forward. It was kind of overnight that I decided this is it, this is the thing I want!I applied immediately and started in Fall 2017. I’ll be graduating this spring, in 2021.

What is your current job?

I work at ORNLin a group that does environmental monitoring and compliance. My job title is Sampling and Data Evaluation Specialist, but I just think of myself as the group’s data manager. I maintain our environmental database and transmit data to state and federal agencies. I also create sampling paperwork, maintain official records, and I get to do some data analysis and report-writing too.

The person who had this position before me had a master’s in computer science, and they were sort of looking to fill the position with either a person with an environmental background who could learn the data side, or a data person who could learn the environmental side. My resume was almost exactly what they were looking for except for the data part at that time, but I told them I was in the SIS program.

When I interviewed they had never heard of this degree and they were excited about it. I always describe it that this was the dream job I was trying to get with this degree and I sort of stumbled into it a little early, so I plan to stay and keep doing it. I absolutely love my job.

Why the University of Tennessee?

I am kind of from Knoxville, I’ve lived here since I was 12. I didn’t go to UT for undergrad, but both my parents got their undergraduate and grad degrees from UT, so it’s the family school. I never even looked anywhere else for grad school, and then I was really excited when I realized that this was a prestigious program within information schools, and it was right here. My very first class I got to take with Dr. Hank in the communications building, and I’m glad I got to do that and feel like a UT student – I even got to fight with finding parking and all that.

How has your SIS experience been?

The professors have been incredible. I’ve had a mixture of faculty and the outside industry folks who are lecturers, and they have always been so kind, and really flexible about letting me tailor assignments to what I‘m doing at work. They’re always so excited about that and say that, if you can use this in your job, do what you can, make it work. They’ve just been incredible and supportive.

That also ties into the fact that almost every class I’ve taken I’ve been able to tailor to something I was doing for my job. When I was doing my database class, I was able to create a database for work. When I was taking my geospatial data management class, I wrote a paper on using mapping for knowledge management and they want to implement that here. Even the UX class that I’m taking now, there’s aspects of my job that it applies to.

The other thing I took advantage of is trying to network with other students, even though we are in distance education and it can be more difficult. I’ve been able to network on LinkedIn and I’ve reached out to people before who were in my classes. I love seeing our graduates going into more varied government agencies and doing data work, and I want to be able to pick all their brains.