BioSci Alumni Interview Series
BioSci Alumnus: Kelly 'Mandy' Hope
B.S. Natural Sciences, University of Alaska Anchorage, 2013
Mandy Hope, UAA Commencement, May 2013
As many of you may know, life as an undergraduate may be confusing at times. What do I major in? How will I land a job after graduation? What kind of job do I want to apply for? All of these are the kinds of questions that loom in the minds of students in this modern world, and that can be quite daunting when trying to get through life's little rights of passages. Even when plans don't come together as perfectly as you had imagined, missteps can sometimes lead to your true path and open up opportunities that you never knew were there. Kelly 'Mandy' Hope's story is a bit like this, and all the trial and error throughout her undergraduate career have led to a life of adventure and a fulfilling career.
During Mandy Hope's first few years at UAA, she was much like the average undergraduate student feeling out her interests and trying to answer those looming questions in her mind. She wasn't sure what she wanted to do, but she knew she wanted a degree and she had always excelled in the sciences. With earning the UA Scholars Scholarship to attend a University of Alaska institution, the decision to attend college was a fairly easy one, but knowing what she wanted to do for the rest of her life was not. While in high school, Mandy took Advanced Placement Biology, so she knew that Biology could be an option but she didn't want to hone in on a degree program too soon. Mandy's answer to this dilemma was much like what many had done before her, she self-managed her coursework, chose to take the classes that seemed the most interesting, and decided to get her General Education Requirements out of the way. As with those before her, this strategy left much to be desired and didn't lead to the answers she was looking for—as Mandy stated, a career path didn't miraculously land in her lap. By this time, Mandy was a few years into college and decided it was time to see an advisor, which was one of the best decisions she could have made!
While meeting with her advisor, Mandy realized that if she wanted to pursue the Biological Sciences degree, she would essentially have to start from the beginning with the exception of a few core classes. Mandy reminisced saying, "I tried to do all of the planning myself and it didn't really work out. I didn't really have any direction in mind, and I was a little too easy on myself about it like, 'I'll figure it out and get some of my credits done.' By the time I realized I did want to do Biology, I basically would have had to start all over again. I looked around a little bit with my advisor, and Natural Sciences seemed like a great fit!" Annie Passarello, Mandy's academic advisor, became a mainstay of the remainder of Mandy's academic career, and much of her following success can be attributed to the help Annie provided. "I really liked Annie;she was straight forward with what I had to do and she really helped me. I never knew what questions to ask and she helped guide me," said Mandy.
After enrolling in the Natural Sciences degree program, Mandy flourished and was again free to take the courses she enjoyed but within a framework that would lead to a degree and a career path. Mandy discovered her love for geology and environmental sciences, which now play an integral role in her career as an Environmental Program Specialist for the State of Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. "My geomorphology class had helped me greatly—I can look at an aerial photo and know what kind of processes shaped the landscape and what the soil type might be and what that means in terms of permeability. If I had just stuck with the Biology track, I wouldn't have had any training in environmental science or topography, and those courses definitely prepared me for field work!"
Mandy Hope in a Black Hawk helicopter
Within the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Mandy specifically works with the National Guard acting as the Environmental Condition of Properties (ECP) Program Manager. Mandy is called to action when the National Guard is acquiring property, entering or renewing a lease or divesting a building. She conducts ECP assessments evaluating the past history of the property and whether there has been past contamination. She conducts the assessments through research, database searches, onsite investigation and conducting internal audits of the armories around the state. Mandy is in charge of writing the ECP documents detailing the findings of the assessments, which protects the agency from future liability. The assessments typically take place in the summer months, and the team comes back to Anchorage in the fall and winter to enter their findings into their databases system. While doing field assessments, Mandy observes the environment looking for signs of distressed and dead vegetation, changes in surface deposits, industrial waste and litter, and if something is amiss, she may recommend further investigation and sampling. Everything Mandy had learned during her years in college have helped her become successful in the position. When asked what her favorite aspects of the job are, she cheerfully said, "The opportunity to use all of the schooling I've had! I wasn't sure if I would end up in a profession that was so closely tied to the degree I received, but I use what I learned all the time."
Since starting the position around a year ago, Mandy has been to twenty five sites around Alaska and has enjoyed every minute of it. When she was in college struggling to discover her passions, she never imagined that she could be jetting around Alaska in a Black Hawk helicopter utilizing her major in the most adventurous way possible. Your first time doing anything is always the most memorable, and Mandy's first field trip was no exception. "My very first trip was to Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island. We went with our Cultural Resources Manager, and he was looking at some anthropological remains while we were doing our assessment. After we finished, he took us around the island and just looking down at the ground there were bones everywhere. There were huts built into the bank that you could see along the coastline. It was kind of overwhelming taking it all in at once. It was so different than what I was used to…I felt very lucky to be there."
Roller Derby with Boom Town Derby Dames, May 2015. © Rick Schleyer, Freeze Frame Photography.
Mandy's position hasn't only opened up a world of travel, but she has met people and experienced things that wouldn't have ever been on her purview. Last summer was full of memorable trips to villages across Alaska; her team brought along a recruiter, allowing them to talk more with the villagers' one on one learning about their different cultures. Mandy said excitedly about the experience, "It's really fun going with the recruiters because they get to talk more with the villagers, so walking back to the helicopter, we typically have a whole gaggle of kids with us. When we travel by Black Hawk, everybody knows we are coming because they can hear us and see us land, and everybody comes out to say hi. The kids especially love it."
With everything coming together so perfectly for Mandy after a few experimental years as an undergraduate, is there anything that she would have changed if she could? "I would advise undergraduates to try to get into a class or get an internship that gives you experience because when you graduate with your degree you will have everything you need…most employers will want you to have a couple of years of experience." These are words of wisdom from someone who has been there and done that. As Mandy stated, along with seeking degree program advice from academic advisors, gaining research and career experience is a must nowadays. If you are feeling lost with where to start, take your cue from Mandy and seek advice from those around you and do some experimentation until you too find the perfect path that leads to a life of adventure and fulfillment.