When Samantha Henderson started at IUPUI in 2009, she was also working third shift at the FedEx Indianapolis Airport Hub. A first-generation student from Indianapolis, she had just moved out on her own and didn’t have any financial support from family to help pay for college.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a scientist, so I had to find a way to make it work and blaze toward a better future for myself,” says Henderson.
She worked the graveyard shift to afford the cost of attendance until her final year at IUPUI. While the schedule was challenging, the job at FedEx helped her reach her goal of earning a bachelor’s degree in 2015. Coffee certainly helped.
“My schedule was very demanding and opportunities to find sleep were not consistent, but I powered through. The triple espressos helped keep me going,” jokes Henderson.
Upon graduating from IUPUI, Henderson was offered a position as a field professional at EnviroFornesics, an Indianapolis company staffed by geologists, engineers, and scientists who specialize in environmental investigation and remediation of properties with a history of industrial use, such as dry cleaner locations and gas stations. Now, as a project manager, she guides the investigation and cleanup process and helps the team meet their technical, budgetary, and administrative requirements for each clean-up site.
“I actually became aware of EnviroForensics from a presentation given by the president of the company at an IUPUI function. They seemed like a good company to work for and had core values that aligned with my ideals, so I took a shot and got hired as a field professional in the summer of 2015,” explains Henderson.
At the end of the day when you do accomplish and rise above what seems like the impossible, you’ll surprise yourself with skills you didn’t know you had and learn what you are really capable of.”Samantha Henderson
She credits the rigorous curriculum in the department for helping prepare her for the job at EnviroForensics. Henderson thinks the professors do a great job of challenging students to think critically and look at problems in different ways to find unique solutions.
“Technical writing and communication are paramount in this field, and although the expectations were high, the experiences prepared me well for the demands and pacing of a full-time career in geoscience,” says Henderson.
Henderson encourages students to get involved in research opportunities. Her research in Dr. Kathy Licht’s lab on zircon minerals in the glacial deposits lead to a Geological Society of America research poster award her senior year. She was also published in a research paper shortly after graduating.
“You will be challenged in ways you won’t expect, it might be hard, and you might think you can’t do it. At the end of the day when you do accomplish and rise above what seems like the impossible, you’ll surprise yourself with skills you didn’t know you had and learn what you are really capable of,” Henderson explains.
Research experience helps graduates stand out to potential employers. An understanding of a job candidate’s research projects allows employers to better comprehend what job prospects are capable of and what type of work is motivating. Research also allows students to make life-long connections with faculty mentors.
“[Dr. Licht] actually attended my wedding, and we still keep up as our jobs allow us to. I feel like it’s a special bond that will last a lifetime,” says Henderson. “She saw my potential, believed in me, and bolstered me up so I could stand on my own as a fierce leader in the science field. I am so grateful for the person she has helped me become!”
Read our full interview with Samantha below.
Q: When did you start at IUPUI, and when did you graduate?
A: I started at IUPUI in 2009 and graduated in 2015. I worked nights to put myself through school, so it took a little longer than normal to complete the curriculum under a non-traditional schedule. It was a long process but so worth it!
Q: Where are you originally from, and what high school did you attend?
A: I am an Indy native, born and raised. I attended both George Washington and Arsenal Technical High Schools, where I graduated in 2007. I grew up on the southwest side but was allowed to choose to attend an east side school through a magnet program based on my good grades.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to study earth science?
A: I started at IUPUI as a potential Biology major. I didn’t know I was even interested in Earth Science until I took a 101-course taught by an eccentric but fascinating professor. I was hooked immediately!
Q: You were working nights before you decided to attend IUPUI. Why did you decide at that point that you needed to earn your college degree?
A: I worked third shift at the FedEx airport hub from 2008 to 2014 as a way to work through school and afford to live on my own. I moved out of my parent’s house at 17 and was independent from that point forward. I am a first-generation graduate and it was never an expectation for me to go to college, so there was no monetary support to help me pay for college. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a scientist, so I had to find a way to make it work and blaze toward a better future for myself. It certainly wasn’t an easy way to live. My schedule was very demanding and opportunities to find sleep were not consistent, but I powered through. The triple espressos helped keep me going until I hired into a work-study position on campus during my final year of classes.
Q: What do you do at Enviroforensics?
A: At EnviroForensics, we are a team of geologists, engineers, and scientists who specialize in environmental investigation and remediation of old dry cleaner sites, gas stations, and properties with long histories of industrial use. As one of a handful of Project Managers, I guide and advance project sites through the investigation and cleanup process, and maintain each site’s momentum toward regulatory closure. I work closely with a team in the office to manage the technical, budgetary, and administrative requirements for each unique project site in order to meet target objectives of cleanups.
Q: How do you feel the Earth Science department prepared you for your career?
A: The curriculum within the Earth Science department was vigorous, but the staff were approachable and seized every opportunity to mentor and foster professional development in their students. The professors were great at exercising radical candor – challenging directly, while caring personally. On a technical level, some of the most important things I learned in the program were related to communication. Technical writing and communication are paramount in this field, and although the expectations were high, the experiences prepared me well for the demands and pacing of a full-time career in geoscience.
Q: How did you find your job at Enviroforensics? Did you use PREPs to help with resume or interview tips?
A: I actually became aware of EnviroForensics from a presentation given by the President of the company at an IUPUI function. They seemed like a good company to work for and had core values that aligned with my ideals, so I took a shot and got hired as a field professional in the summer of 2015, right after graduation. I had been looking for a job for six months at that point and couldn’t believe I finally found one at the perfect time!
Networking played a huge part in being offered a position. As a member of the Geology Club and of the local Indiana Geologists group, I was able to connect with a working professional Geologist who passed on a glowing recommendation about me to the management team at EnviroForensics. There is real truth to the phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.
The resume that PREPs helped me develop was also a big factor in landing the job. I got several compliments on the layout and content – it aided to set me apart from other candidates.
Q: Tell me about your research experience? I hear you won an award for best poster and were also published as a second author before you graduated.
A: I worked tirelessly and rapidly with my mentor, Kathy Licht, Ph.D. to write a scientific proposal detailing the planned methodologies and hypotheses of our research project. We submitted the proposal into IUPUI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) candidate pool in hopes of securing a grant to fund the project. This research investigated whether the ages of sand-sized zircon minerals in the glacial deposits can be used as a reliable tracer of glacial ice lobe movement when the direction of ice flow is ambiguous. There were approximately 1,000 applicants, and we were one of the few selected winners.
Based on my efforts to help acquire the grant, I was given the opportunity to help collect and prepare the samples, and perform the Multi Collector Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (MC-LA-ICPMS) methodologies. The process allowed us to acquire the data on the assumed age of the zircon mineral grains by directing a laser beam at the individual grains, thereby “ablating” off an aliquot of fine particles to run through the mass-spectrometer. After the data was compiled, we conducted the analysis and synthesis process, and prepared a really great poster for the 2015 regional GSA meeting. We ended up being the most popular poster among our peers and received numerous compliments; we were even awarded the “Best Poster” in our session.
About two months after the poster presentation, EnviroForensics offered me a full-time position as a Field Professional. Unfortunately, because I was now working, I did not have the availability to take first author on the subsequent publication (reference below), but I was involved in the review process. Christine Kassab did a fantastic job on the paper and it was a really rewarding experience overall! Everything I learned about inductive and deductive reasoning, tailoring language to your audience, and going that last 5% to stand out from the crowd came out of this research project. It was an extremely gratifying and humbling experience to feel recognized for my contribution to this field of study.
Kassab, C.M., Brickles, S.L., Licht, K.J., and Monaghan, G.W., 2017. “Exploring the use of zircon geochronology as an indicator of Laurentide Ice Sheet till provenance, Indiana, U.S.A.” Quaternary Research 88(3), p.525-536
Q: How did you find out about and get involved with that particular research lab?
A: Kathy took me on as a research student after I asked an interesting, slightly profound, and extremely timely question during a Sed/Strat field trip to a local streambed. I had a curiosity, she had a method of potentially finding the answer, and it was really just a right place/right time sort of moment. Although I didn’t find an answer with my research, the student following in my footsteps was able to take my research as a stepping stone, combine it with his own significant efforts, and get to an answer. It’s definitely science in action! It feels great to have helped the scientific community advance knowledge on this particular topic.
Q: Why do you think it’s so important for our undergraduates to get involved in research opportunities early?
A: Three words: hone your craft. Without knowing it, you’ll learn how to roll with the big sharks when it comes to writing and presenting on a technical topic, and it will put you way ahead of your peers to help you land your dream job! You will be challenged in ways you won’t expect, it might be hard, and you might think you can’t do it. At the end of the day when you do accomplish and rise above what seems like the impossible, you’ll surprise yourself with skills you didn’t know you had and learn what you are really capable of when you dig deep.
If you are involved in a research project that you care about, an employer can look at your research experience to gain a sense of what motivates you, and what you’re capable of on a technical level. The little nuances and individual skills demonstrated by the completion of a large research project add up and equate to real-world professional expertise that employers want to see.
Q: Tell me a little about the classes you took and what you liked about them?
A: The core Geology classes were the best – Mineralogy, Petrology, and Sedimentation and Stratigraphy were my favorites. The professors were interactive and challenged you with on-the-spot questions, keeping you engaged in the topics. There were a variety of different types of instruction, but the “hands on” and “critical thinking” types of learning were a huge factor in my ability to pass the courses and apply the knowledge in my current career. It wasn’t just remembering a bunch of facts. The professors understood the importance of challenging you to think critically – being able to dig deep to understand the core of the topic, and being able to look at a problem from multiple angles to find the best solution. I would not be where I am today without that close, thoughtful guidance and being constantly challenged with open-ended questions. It not only has helped me on a technical level to execute my duties at work, but it has also helped me learn how to manage others by mentoring and training junior staff with some of the same methods.
Q: Tell me about the connections you made with faculty and classmates?
A: I still keep up with several of my classmates I met in school. We all work for different companies (and a couple actually work for competitors), but I feel like I made some lasting connections through the department. Having a communal study and hang-out area dedicated to the department students was an enormous bonus and allowed me and my shy nature to slowly bond and trust others. I’m a lot less shy than I used to be, but having that environment really helped me feel safe and aided to develop some (desperately needed) social skills.
Kathy actually attended my wedding and we still keep up as our jobs allow us to. I feel like it’s a special bond that will last a lifetime. She saw my potential, believed in me, and bolstered me up so I could stand on my own as a fierce leader in the science field. I am so grateful for the person she has helped me become!
Q: What is one thing you wish you had known about studying science at IUPUI that we should be sure to tell prospective students?
A: When you have a course load in science, the suggested “time outside of class” is the absolute minimum. For my case and for the case of several of my classmates, it took twice that time to understand and feel good about the content. Understand what you are capable of and what your obligations are outside of the classroom. Don’t try to do too much at once or you will be destined to fail. Sounds simple in text but is very difficult in practice! It took me an extra semester to graduate because I had to re-take Chemistry II. I kept overestimating what I was capable of managing outside of class. I think it would be helpful to have a database for prospective students so they can reference what the “real” time commitment will be for some classes. It might be a pipe dream, but that would have certainly helped me and my peers considerably when planning our coarse loads.
Q: What is one piece of advice you’d give to a prospective earth science student?
A: Take a class on using Microsoft Excel! I can’t stress enough how important it is to master this software. Learn it, know it, love it; and put it on your resume! A lot of people forget to list the “basic” skills when writing a resume. Don’t assume your future employer will automatically know or assume that you’ve mastered a skillset. Market your advanced skills, but don’t forget to list the basic ones as well.