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Behind the scenes with Dawn Marie Gaid, environmental sciences academic advisor

Environmental sciences academic advisor Dawn Marie Gaid, pictured above, often uses video conferencing systems to work with online students she advises.

A two-time alumna of Oregon State University, Dawn Marie Gaid knows firsthand what it’s like to be an Oregon State student. And since 2009, she enjoyed sharing that knowledge with current students, helping them on their individual paths to success. Dawn Marie works as an academic advisor in the environmental sciences online undergraduate program, where she assists distance students with decisions concerning personal educational goals that lead to graduation. She also works with on-campus students majoring in environmental sciences, earth sciences (geology, climate and ocean) and geography/geospatial sciences. Prior to this position, she worked as a graduate research assistant in the Rural Studies Program at Oregon State. Dawn Marie earned a B.S. in Natural Resources and a Master of Public Policy – both from Oregon State.


By Heather Doherty  
Jan. 3, 2018

Briefly describe your role as an Ecampus academic advisor. 

“In general, I see myself as a ‘guide on the side’ in helping students navigate themselves toward their academic/career goals (similar to the advising maxim ‘I advise, you decide’). Students do not always stay in the major they started with, so I help facilitate connections with other major advisors. Otherwise, my primary role is to ensure the student meets degree requirements, though I often provide student success and career planning support. As an Ecampus advisor, I also aim to help our online students feel a strong connection to the university, the college and their program, given the nature of distance learning.”

What made you decide to get into this field of study?

“I grew up in the Pacific Northwest with a father who was a professional forester with the USFS. After many years working in the private sector in cable television sales/marketing (without a degree), I made the decision to ‘reinvent myself’ to align my work more closely with my values while also making myself more marketable. Unsurprisingly, I returned to my roots by pursuing an undergraduate degree in natural resources at OSU, and later a Master of Public Policy at OSU with an environmental emphasis. I actually stumbled into the academic student services realm when I started applying for work after graduate school. The combination of my academic credentials in natural resources and environmental policy along with my prior work/life experiences allowed me to gain entry into the professional advising arena. This has opened up many new avenues of interest for me in student services, including distance learning and student success.”

What do you like most about advising environmental sciences online?

“Because this major aligns with my values, I find it easy to cheerlead any student dedicated to the mission of protecting/conserving the environment. I enjoy the diversity of ideas and interests that environmental sciences (ENSC) students bring when they start their studies, and particularly those they discover and develop along the way. The rare student knows exactly what they are aiming for when they start, so watching students adapt and evolve can be very rewarding, especially if based on advice given.”

Dawn Marie’s advice to students: “Find a way to explore or make your major relevant in every course you take. Study abroad if you are able – it could be a life-changing experience. Connect with faculty in meaningful ways every term. Make yourself notable so reference requests are easy to make, and your name is top of mind when opportunities arise.”

How can earning an undergraduate degree in environmental sciences help students in their futures? What types of jobs does this degree set them up for?

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for environmental scientists is projected to grow 11 percent over the next decade – faster than average for all occupations. This reflects a growing public interest in threats to the environment, including impacts from population growth. In 2016, for example, a Pew Research Survey indicated that three-fourths of Americans are concerned about the environment, and over half view protecting the environment as a top policy priority. The career pathway an ENSC undergraduate takes may vary depending on their chosen specialization within the major. Careers in the environmental sciences often involve research or support of research activities, as well as regulatory, management, policy and public education activities related to a range of environmental and resource management issues. Undergraduates go on to work in federal, state and local land management and planning agencies or legislative bodies enacting laws/policies, non-governmental organizations and private firms. Others continue on to graduate school, law school or pursue careers in teaching.”

“Because this major aligns with my values, I find it easy to cheerlead any student dedicated to the mission of protecting/conserving the environment.”

Environmental sciences is a very hands-on career path. Describe the ways in which the online learning environment prepares students for hands-on experience in the future.

“A number of courses in the ENSC curriculum include hands-on components – some use computer technology to demonstrate competency with specific instrumentation (e.g. ‘virtual’ labs in chemistry), others require purchase of ‘kits’ that allow for experimentation at home (e.g. biology), while others require data collection or sampling in the field locally (e.g. soils course). Additionally, in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, we value experiential learning and have included a 3-credit requirement that requires students apply their knowledge in a real-world setting. An approved internship, research or study abroad experience is preferred, though several online ‘applied methods’ courses are available for students who have limitations completing one of the other options. Finally, we encourage students to engage in as many extracurricular experiences as they are able as a way of refining their interest or making connections that may be useful in their next steps. Active interaction with faculty is integral in this regard and highly encouraged.” 

What is the most popular class you recommend to students, and why? 

“As an interdisciplinary program, ENSC uses course work from many different subject areas. While there is not one particular course I recommend to students, there is one requirement area that students might consider completing early in their program of study. The ‘Human Environment’ requirement of the ENSC core focuses on the interaction of humans to their environment. With more than a dozen electives to choose from, students can get a sense of the magnitude of environmental issues and opportunities, and it may give them a sense of direction to explore further. An added benefit is that many of these are baccalaureate core courses, so they may fulfill two requirements. I cannot help but note that the calculus sequence is likely the least popular, and arguably the most important.”

What would you say is the most fascinating aspect of this field of study?

“From my perspective, the intersection/conflict between the science of the environment and the science of people is the most fascinating. For example, policies enacted do not always reflect public demands, and what people say they want is oftentimes not reflected in how they act. With their interdisciplinary training in the natural sciences and social sciences, an ENSC student is uniquely poised to act as a bridge between these two worlds. This could not be more important right now in terms of policies and politics, both nationally and globally.”

How do you build a genuine connection with students who, in many cases, you’ll never meet in person?

“I encourage regular interactions as I feel these are key in developing a strong connection. The length of time a student is in the program also has an influence on the depth of the relationship – some students take five or six years to complete their degree, so you can really get to know them. Since I conduct most of my advising appointments over the phone, I think tone of voice can really make a difference in how a student engages. I oftentimes use humor to put students at ease, and share personal experiences if I feel they are relevant – this helps them share more openly and, in doing so, allows me to give better advice.” 

Are there any common questions or themes you hear from students? If so, what are they, and what do you tell them?

“Probably the two most common questions are, ‘How do my transfer credits apply?’ and ‘What can I do with this major?’

“More than 90 percent of online ENSC students are transfer students – some who bring in a significant number of transfer credits – so the first question is usually related to what can be used toward the degree, and the answers vary as each student’s evaluation is unique.

“Most students self-select into ENSC without talking to someone from Ecampus first. Because there are several science-related degrees in a cluster with ENSC, one of the first conversations we have is about major fit. It is important to make sure they are aligned with the right major from the start, if possible, and a discussion about the basic science and math requirements is central to this – math in particular –as this is a ‘make-or-break’ sequence. There is a new degree comparison tool on the Ecampus website that helps facilitate this discussion – we advisors love it!”

What advice would you like to give to students?

“Your advisor is here to assist. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to reach out for help – it is easier to help when an issue is timely, rather than crisis management after the fact.

“Go slow to go fast. Know the tools and rules early on, so you can respond rather than react in situation. Do not jump ahead too quickly to the ‘fun’ courses in the major. Focus on building a strong foundation with the basic science and math sequences. Do not avoid your math!

“Find a way to explore or make your major relevant in every course you take. Study abroad if you are able – it could be a life-changing experience. Connect with faculty in meaningful ways every term. Make yourself notable so reference requests are easy to make, and your name is top of mind when opportunities arise.

“Do not avoid your math! (Did I already say that?)”

What are your favorite activities outside of work?

“I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, especially if it involves cooking for them! I come from a large family, and have adult children of my own, so there are always family get-togethers. I enjoy giving back to the community and currently lead an action team with the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition. I like to stay up on current events, though I confess to probably reading too much political news. I love wandering through antique/thrift stores, and watching murder mysteries, crime drama and British TV. I enjoy being in the wilderness, though, never as much as I would like.”

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