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

Dawn Marie Gaid, Oregon State Ecampus environmental sciences undergraduate advisor, video conferences with a student in her office.

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 has 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.

By Heather Doherty

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’). 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 United States Forest Service. 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. 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.”

Dawn Marie sits across from someone smiling. Behind her is an orange wall and a corner shelf with a plant and small trinkets on it.

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 careers?

“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.”

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.

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.”

“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.”

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% 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.”

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?)”


  • Anna Burkoff says:

    Inspirational story considering I work in telecommunications and working on a GIS certificate at PCC, but I believe a Bachelor’s in Natural Resources should be my next endeavor, at OSU!

  • Heather Doherty says:

    That sounds great, Anna! Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help you get started here at OSU!

  • Dawn Marie Gaid says:

    Hi Anna! Thanks for your comments. That’s great you’re considering OSU to continue your education, and I’m delighted if I provided some inspiration. I encourage you to also take a look at the Environmental Sciences major, and our new online degree in Geography & Geospatial Science. If you’d like to chat sometime, let me know!

  • Gert Muller says:

    Hi Dawn,

    Hi Dawn, I am ending a career in the maritime sector after 23 years. I now have an opportunity to work in the USA in the Environmental market and am interest in attending an Ecampus undergraduate degree, or specific courses, to further my knowledge of Environmental Sciences.
    I am relocating to the USA in March of 2022 and would appreciate some guidance on how best to proceed with OSU.

  • Hello Gert,

    Thanks for your interest in our online degree in Environmental Sciences!

    I’m happy to set up a time to chat with you. You can get to the prospective student booking form from the CEOAS Future Undergraduate page,

    You can get to the ENSC Program page and Advising Worksheets from the CEOAS Current Undergraduate page,

    For Admissions help, I would recommend reviewing this page, and connecting with Ecampus if you need help along the way,

    I look forward to meeting you and discussing your goals further!

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