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Alumni spotlight: 2006 SPEA grad Jennifer Wunsh makes the most of her degree

Now a water resource specialist for Save the Dunes, Wunsh recaps her path to success through IU Northwest

IU Northwest file photo
Jennifer Wunsh, 2006 SPEA grad, tells current students about her career.

“I graduated, so now what?” It’s a common question asked by new grads and pondered by those approaching their impending entrance into the “real world.”

Jennifer Wunsh returned to Indiana University Northwest recently to impart some wisdom on this question, which is often a source of anxiety and uncertainty for many. The DeMotte, Ind. resident graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in public affairs with a focus on environmental policy.

Wunsh recounted the path she took that eventually landed her in her current position as a water resource specialist with the non-profit Save the Dunes Conservation Fund. Her story illuminated the interesting and varied paths a person might take en route to a dream job.

Wunsh said it’s important to think about building one’s resume well before graduation day. Grade point average, membership in honor societies and letters of recommendations are pieces that can be gathered early. Perhaps most important, she said, is relationship building.

“A really important thing to do is develop relationships with your professors,” she said. “They are an unbelievable resource to get your foot in the door somewhere.”

Wunsh credited Associate Professor Ellen Szarleta, Ph.D., for leading her toward an internship opportunity that really put her on the fast track to a career she is clearly passionate about.

At her Dunes National Lakeshore internship, Wunsh studied the numbers of insects and tiny animals in water to determine that water’s quality. She marched around the perimeter of Mount Baldy with a GPS tracker and learned about the movement of the giant sand dune. She learned about the ins and outs of sewer overflows and water treatment facilities and evaluated water samples. Ultimately, Wunsh gained a greater awareness of her environment that has fueled her passion for advocating cleaner water practices.

Wunsh landed her first job at an environmental services company in Chicago, where she did site assessments and researched the histories of land parcels. The commute from Lowell to Chicago was taxing, so she soon left for her next opportunity at an environmental consulting firm. There, she worked with large industries to help keep them in compliance with environmental safety laws. She said that working at a steel mill, managing hazardous waste inventory, conducting inspections and the like was “a cool job,” but what Wunsh really wanted was to work outdoors.

Her current position at the Save the Dunes fits that bill. This non-profit organization works to protect the unique ecosystem that survives among the heavy industry of the Lake Michigan watershed.

Wunsh piqued her audience’s interest in environmental careers with various innovations that she has learned about protecting nature in an urban environment, like building rain gardens to filter out pollutants so they don’t end up in waterways. She talked about pervious pavement and tree cells as ways to encourage trees and plants to thrive and even help clean a densely urban landscape.  

Wunsh’s job history is testament to the varied opportunities available in her field of study, she said.  

"Don’t be afraid to take on something that you don’t have direct experience in,” Wunsh said. “Give it a shot.”


Media Contact

Emily Banas
Office of Marketing and Communications

Erika Rose
Office of Marketing and Communications