GradImpact: Environmental Science and Public Service

    While some graduate students who are active duty military want to build skills for future civilian careers, others, like Philip Steenstra, are getting graduate degrees to become more skilled military personnel. Steenstra, an Army Captain and a graduate student pursuing a Master of Science degree in Environmental Science at Washington State University, hopes to use his degree to secure a position in the US Corps of Engineers after graduation. Though he would like to join the Corps of Engineers, he knows the new skills he has acquired at WSU will be useful in many fields. “I will be returning to the active Army after completing my degree here,” he says, “but I plan to use my degree as best I can regardless of the assignment I have.”


    Steenstra has been interested in going to graduate school in environmental science for as long as he can remember. As a graduate student, Steenstra has studied the emerging threat of tungsten to Washington’s waterways. He argued in a recent project proposal that the surplus of tungsten in Washington’s water supply was a threat to public health and ecology. This work builds on prior studies conducted by the Environmental Projection Agency (EPA) in 2008 and in California in 2014. Steenstra has enjoyed the work noting that, “Throughout my entire education I’ve enjoyed learning about environmental processes and I’ve very much enjoyed continuing to build on that knowledge” at WSU.


    Steenstra believes his military background has improved his performance as a graduate student. “The military has significantly helped me prepare for graduate school as myriad skills I learned or honed while in the Army carry over into graduate life” he said in a conversation with CGS. “In particular, skills concerning organization, time management, and writing have been instrumental in my success thus far.” Beyond academic skills, Steenstra’s time in the Army has helped him keep graduate school in perspective. The Army gave him “plenty of practice in maintaining a healthy work-life balance [which] has made this time enjoyable.”


    Steenstra looks forward to continuing to build his military career after finishing graduate school. “I will have plenty of time to get myself into an assignment where I can use my degree as I plan to stay in the Army until at least retirement (20 years of service) even though I’m only at ten years right now.” Once he has secured his military retirement, he wants to work for a state or federal regulatory agency in order to continue to use his science background to serve his fellow citizens. Moving into a regulatory agency will mean “I can continue making a positive impact on our country” he concludes.


    To learn more about Philip’s work, visit the Washington State University website.


    Visit the GradImpact Feature Gallery to learn more about the amazing, innovative research being done by graduate students and alumni across the world.


    Photo Credit: Philip Steenstra

    The CGS GRADIMPACT project draws from member examples to tell the larger story of graduate education. Our goal is to demonstrate the importance of graduate education not only to degree holders, but also to the communities where we live and work. Do you have a great story to share about the impact of master’s or doctoral education? Visit our WEBSITE for more information.


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