Trailblazers: The Story Behind GCU’s First Environmental Studies Graduates

Two people walk up to a lake with equipment in their hands

What does it take to pioneer a new program at GCU? Just ask Isabelle Ketchum and Samantha White, who will soon be GCU’s first graduates from the new environmental science program. This program immerses students in environmental biology, chemistry, and engineering to prepare them for the demanding fields they are about to enter. Each semester the program continues to grow with students looking to learn more about the challenges facing the environment and creating strategies to keep people safe while bringing greater awareness to the importance of maintaining ecosystems.

The field of environmental science involves not only identifying problems but also maintaining the overall health of ecosystems and identifying potential solutions. “I love to know why things turn and how living and non-living things contribute to the balance of our planet,” White stated.

For Ketchum, who started as a pre-med major, it’s the opportunities outside of the lab that is appealing. “I love being outdoors and the prospect of being in the field regularly is a huge appeal,” she said.

In an effort gain greater insight into environmental issues, GCU continues to grow its Research and Design Program to provide students with opportunities to be a part of lab and fieldwork throughout the different science disciplines.

Being the first hasn’t been without a few bumps in the road, but these young women have taken every new challenge in stride. Working with faculty and staff, they have spent countless hours redoing schedules to ensure that they would graduate on time and have been working through newly developed courses being offered for the first time. For GCU’s future environmental students Ketchum said, “I hope that by pioneering this program, I can help be a part of making it better.” For GCU’s current and future environmental science majors, White encourages students to “gain a good relationship with the professors and participate in the research projects.”

As graduation approaches, they prepare for the next step in their careers and education with excitement. White will be taking her expertise back to California and pursuing a job with the government to do data analysis or fieldwork. Ketchum will be pursuing opportunities as a marine biologist. “I do know that I will feel more prepared to go into my chosen profession now than I would have before my change, which is really reassuring for me,” she said. “I am excited to be able to say that I am one of the first to graduate from this program and to be able to show just how much that did for me.”

The field of environmental science has grown over the last decade and is projected to grow 11% by the year 2024 as concerns about human impact on ecosystems and climate change continue to grow. Graduating with a degree in environmental science can lead to opportunities in the fields of environmental policy and planning, wildlife management and remediation, and zoology. The GCU program allows students to develop the skills necessary to be prepared for the variety of fieldwork they may be asked to work on in their careers.

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  • “Environmental Scientists and Specialists.” Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from:

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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