A 2000 graduate of UK’s Natural Resource Conservation and Management (NRCM) program, Dr. Ben Gramig has taken his undergraduate emphasis in policy and made it his own as a professional.
He is currently an Associate Professor at Purdue University where he teaches some of the same courses that he took as a student at the University of Kentucky including Natural Resource and Environmental Economics and Economic Dynamics. Dr. Gramig’s position also involves research in which he focuses on current issues such as the mitigation of climate change in agriculture, the sustainability of cellulosic bioenergy crops and cost-effective agricultural non-point source pollution control.
Ben’s initial interest in policy brought him to the Kentucky Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy (GOAP) where he worked for two years after graduation. Once at the GOAP, his knowledge and interest in agriculture greatly expanded. This position inspired him to continue his education at UK with a M.S. in Agricultural Economics, where he worked with Dr. Jerry Skees and now-retired NRES professor, Dr. Craig Infanger.
Ultimately, the combination of his undergraduate experience in natural resource policy and post-graduate experience in natural resource policy and post-graduate experience in agricultural economics allowed Ben to become an inter-disciplinary scientist and led him to his faculty position at Purdue University.
While he previously imagined himself working as a public policy practitioner or in an environmental consulting firm, Ben enjoys that, as a researcher, he has the freedom to work on projects that interest him most without much oversight. On the subject, he said, “My favorite part of my job is that…I can choose a portfolio of research projects that involve different collaborators and this can change over time to address new or emerging issues.”
Dr. Gramig has gone above and beyond his experience in NRCM program, yet he still believes his undergraduate foundation at UK was critical to his preparation to be a researcher and a teacher today. Ben explained, “NRCM taught me to build a team of experts from multiple disciplines in order to effectively address environmental and natural resource management problems. I currently work with engineers, ecologists, agronomists, climate scientists, and political scientists on the different projects that I am involved in.
An interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning is important, so that students learn how their science is used by other disciplines to inform private or public decision-makers and for students to appreciate the diversity of approaches that team members will bring to the table in a work setting after they graduate.”
Specifically he noted how, “The Summer Camp and NRCM capstone courses really opened my eyes to how natural and social sciences must work together to address real world problems.”
Ben’s diversity of experiences yielded much great advice for current NRES students. When discussing his favorite part about the program he mentioned, “Flexibility is both an advantage and a disadvantage, but a master of none,’ you want to be recognized as a trained expert in a core area- biology, forestry, hydrology, economics- who has an uncommon level of familiarity with other disciplines and the ability to understand how your work fits into the big picture.”
With a final word of advice to students, Ben reminds us to keep an open mind and not become too wedded to any idea for yourself post-graduation.
According to Dr. Gramig, “The best opportunities that I have had in my career have been unexpected and were not planned out in advance.” Since you never know who could be offering you your next job or internship, Ben suggests, “Try to introduce yourself to guest speakers and those participating in conferences/workshops you have the opportunity to attend. You can never start building your professional network too early.”
Dr. Gramig isn’t the only alumni of note produced by the NRCM program. Since graduating from the NRCM program in 2009, Erin Murphy is enjoying her career at Stantec Consulting in Louisville, Kentucky, a company that specializes in stream restoration and ecological services.
As an Environmental Scientist, some of her responsibilities include stream and wetland monitoring and delineation, geomorphic surveys, water quality studies, environmental permitting, and environmental compliance consulting.
What Erin loves most about her career is working with people in a wide variety of disciplines, such as wildlife biology, geomorphology, and environmental engineering. She credits the NRCM program for providing her with working knowledge of many areas outside of her specialty, which is important when collaborating with specialists from other fields.
When asked how her degree prepared her for the position, Erin said, “The NRCM program gave me a broad understanding of environmental sciences and an exposure to a number of different jobs and specialties in the natural resources field.”
This knowledge became useful after college because, like many people, her interests continued to evolve as a result of her experiences. In college, Erin focused primarily on geography, soil science, and water quality.
However, working for Stantec Consulting spurred her interest in other areas of environmental science. For example, her current position allows her to branch out and take part in habitat studies and biological sampling. Thanks to her studies as an undergraduate Erin is able to make a smooth transition from one project to the next.
Like many students, Erin transferred to UK because her previous school did not provide an environmental science or natural resource major. Upon entering the NRCM major she felt like she had finally found a program that fit her personality, interests, and experience for many reasons.
First, the professors were extremely friendly and passionate about their career, which ultimately provided a very welcoming environment for new and current students.
Secondly, the small and interactive classes allowed her to make lasting friendships with her peers and professors, which significantly improved her networking skills.
Lastly, the specialized course material made her very excited and fascinated about her program of study.
Five years later, after reminiscing on her experience as an NRCM student, Erin would advise students to apply themselves in all of their classes even If they may not interest them.
She affirmed that, “in a field where so many disciplines and sciences come together; you never know how your experience in class will help you down the line.” For her, classes like soil judging and economic botany proved to be worthy of the added effort because she still applies the concepts today.
Her final piece of advice, “do not be afraid to experiment with your internships, do not limit yourself to the time required to graduate, and do not underestimate the importance of internships in being able to land an entry level job. Often times that is the only way to distinguish yourself apart from everyone else with a college degree.”