As a Northland College student, Andrew Weir felt like he was gaining valuable experiences in his geosciences major, but knew that in order to pursue a career in environmental consulting he would need something more substantial on his resume to stand out amongst other applicants.

That is why Weir decided to spend three years building his resume through the Mary Griggs Burke Center’s applied research program working in the Applied Research Environmental Lab on campus.

Each year up to 20 Northland College students are accepted into the program with the goal that they will advance throughout the four different job positions during their time at Northland.

“What we try to do is recruit students to the college or identify those who are interested and wanting to participate in research projects,” Lehr said.

New students to the program are hired as technicians and then promoted annually based on performance to assistants, assistant research associates and water resource specialists. Most students work approximately ten to twenty hours a week during the academic year, and up to forty hours per week during the summer.

Lehr believes this model is beneficial to students because it helps them to understand resume building, job interviews and the promotion process practiced by many research facilities across the nation.

“Each time we promote them we give them more responsibility, we pay them more, we have an increased expectation of them taking on more leadership and really trying to get them to the point where they are just another colleague in our program,” Lehr said.

All students who participate in the applied research program are paid for their work, and some receive academic credit for completing capstone projects or independent study.

“What we try to do is shape our student projects so that they get some experience with this range of different scientific disciplines that are working on water,” Lehr explained.

Weir’s experiences paid off, landing his dream job as an environmental scientist with RMB Environmental Laboratories in Minnesota immediately after graduation in 2014.

“My responsibilities now include performing and overseeing the analysis of a handful of water quality parameters. I also help coordinate targeted studies involving nitrate in groundwater,” Weir said.

When he started working at RMB, Weir advanced quickly into positions “they didn’t think they would have him in right away,” Randy Lehr, codirector of the Mary Griggs Burk Center for Freshwater Innovation, noted attributing this to Weir’s work at the Center.

“The work that I completed at Northland was crucial for my understanding of properly obtaining accurate results that are utilized for water resource management,” Weir agreed.

Working his way from technician to water resource specialist, he spent the majority of his time in the ARELab performing chemical assays on water as well as water sampling.

“I learned everyday I worked at ARELab. With the lab located in the science building, work felt like an extension of my classes, rather than work,” he said. “The faculty constantly challenged me to develop a better understanding of whatever task was at hand, as well as the big picture idea surrounding it.”


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