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Eric O'Brien

Eric O'BrienEric O’Brien, an Iowa native, received both his BA and MS degrees from UNI. He completed his BA in Biology with an Environmental Emphasis in 2001 and continued into the Environmental Science graduate program, which he completed in 2003. He is now the first University Sustainability Coordinator at UNI.

Eric did not start his higher education at UNI. The strong programs and faculty drew him here. He began his undergraduate work at Iowa State University, but found the research focus of the faculty left him lost in the shuffle of students. As he investigated other possible universities, UNI and Ed Brown, Professor of Biology, won Eric over on his campus visit. In one afternoon he had more one-on-one time with multiple professors than he had in two years at ISU and really saw the campus from a personal side. As a Resident Assistant during his undergraduate work at UNI he learned about working with people, particularly in the area of conflict resolution. He continued his studies in the Environmental Science program because of its interdisciplinary nature and how that would provide the skills and experience he might need in his future career. The program focuses on both scientific and social environmental issues.

Since graduation, Eric has worked in several different positions for Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He began as a DNR Field Technician doing water quality work as a contractor through the University of Iowa then moved up to Program Coordinator and Section Supervisor of the water monitoring area of the DNR. The section includes beach monitoring, the stream network around Iowa, and generally taking samples to test water quality. Although he was not specifically looking for a job change, when he saw the posting for the new position at UNI as Sustainability Coordinator, he immediately pursued the position. He wanted to return to working in a university environment and both he and his wife are UNI alumni and were excited to return to the area. This position requires making decisions about economic, social, and environmental issues of sustainability, which is not just “being green.”

Eric O'Brien working for DNR
Eric and coworkers testing water quality for the DNR.
Eric O'Brien working
Eric and a coworker testing water quality for the DNR.

Outside of work, Eric and his wife are focusing on raising their two girls. He says sleep can be a luxury right now, with one of his daughters being only 5-months-old. Eric grew up in agriculture, and is a two-term past President of the American Oxford Sheep Association. He has also been involved with Project AWARE (A Watershed Awareness River Expedition), a river cleanup event that uses a variety of educational programs along the way to teach citizens about water quality while on the trip. One part of Project AWARE’s Iowa outreach has involved turning trash cleaned out of rivers into works of art. They have melted metals down which are now security gates at the Iowa State Fair grounds.

For current graduate students, Eric simply advises students to go beyond the academics. Since he finished his degrees, he says he now realizes how many free opportunities were available through the campus community that he did not take advantage of at the time.

We hope to continue expanding the "Where are they now?" feature in the future.

If you know alumni of a UNI graduate program who would be interesting to profile here, Jaimie Bell at belljae@uni.edu.

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