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For #Macademics this month I decided to interview one of our longtime supporters, Bria Burke! She's an environmental scientist from Baltimore, MD. She graduated from the University of Baltimore in 2017 with a major in Environmental Sustainability and Human Ecology. Currently, Bria works as a Programs Associate for Urban Land Institute. See what she had to say about her journey below.
What sparked your interest in environmental science? Did you always know you wanted to do that?
I’ve always liked science. My magnet in middle school was environmental science and that kind of directed my path today. However, I was a physics major when I went to college in hopes to pursue astronomy until I took an astronomy class freshman year and hated it. I realized then that environmental science was where I belonged.
How was your undergrad experience? What’d you like and not like about it?
I would say I had a good undergrad experience. It was hard but I felt like most of the time my professors wanted me to win which really helped. Since environmental science is a broad topic you must learn a little bit of everything, that included classes in physics, chemistry, ecology, geology, biology, etc. All those classes can be overwhelming and annoying especially if you have a specific interest. When taking environmental science classes, you get the opportunity to be in the environment and interact with the community. I travel all over Baltimore to study tree diversity of Baltimore county, test the water quality of the Jones Fall and find out the soil quality of a local highway.
Favorite classes you took? Why?
Environmental ethics and environmental government class were two of my favorites. I didn’t expect to like them, and I ended up reading the textbooks for fun. I don’t like reading textbooks when they are required, so this was a big deal. Those classes opened my eyes to the fact that scientists are needed everywhere and not just in a lab. I learned about the type of impact science can have when we enter different spaces and give new needed perspectives. I never thought of what happens after you publish your research and how it can affect everyday life until I took those classes.
What are you doing now? And do you love it?
Right now, I work for a sustainable land use non- profit called Urban Land Institute (ULI). It’s like a think tank where land use professional give and take ideas to build environmentally, socially and economically sustainable communities. My job is specific to the Washington, DC area and I help coordinate educational programs and content. I also work closely with the Sustainability, Placemaking, and Transit Oriented Development initiative councils. Now love is a strong word, but I like my job. I’m a very ambitious person so I always want to contribute more content or have leadership responsibility. I understand that I am fresh out of college and my time will come. I do love the non-profit work atmosphere; it is very relaxing and supportive here. Every day I am surrounded by interesting content and interacting with high-level land use professionals. One unexpected bonus is that ULI events can be upscale, so I’ve got the opportunity to be in some really fancy places around DC.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5-7 years?
I plan to have my master’s in planning and a job as a City Planner, City Sustainability Manager, Environmental Designer or Manager in the Center of Sustainability at ULI.
What’s your favorite thing about being an environmental scientist?
Impact. One of the reasons astronomy didn’t work for me because it was all simulations and equations. You can touch, feel, see, hear, even taste your environment right now. As an environmental scientist, I can not only study but affect the environment in a positive way. Studying environmental science makes me feel like I am fighting for the greater good.
Biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome did?
Getting a job after college! I overcame it by staying consistent and positive.
What’s the best piece of advice someone’s given you? How do you implement this advice?
“You can’t expect someone to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself”- This advice helps me stay confident even when I’m not. It reminds me that there is no benefit to those negative thoughts of “I can’t do that” or “that will never happen”. Success starts with you believing you can do it.
Since we love showcasing our non-STEM sides, what are your favorite non-STEM hobbies?
I love to bake and cycle. Sweet food is my weakness and I offset my sugar habit with an hour of non-stop cycling.
Lastly, what advice would you give black women trying to pursue STEM?
You can anything you put your mind. It is cheesy but so true.
I hope you enjoyed by interview with Bria and learned a little bit about what it's like being an environmental scientist!
See you all next week.
- The Chemist