Thinking of switching your major? For this environmental science student, doing so was rewarding in more ways than one
Ever thought of switching your major? Environmental science major and biology and meteorology double-minor Chloe Kennedy ’24 is here to tell you why it’s never too late to change your mind and how pursuing your true passions can set you on a path like no other. For Chloe, that was two internships within the federal government: one with a National Wildlife Refuge System and one with the National Park Service at Northwest Indiana’s very own Indiana Dunes National Park.
The path forward may seem clear now, but for Chloe, like many other college students, her professional trajectory wasn’t always linear. When she was closing her college search, Chloe decided on Valpo for three specific reasons: a legacy of family graduates, family nearby, and Valpo’s esteemed meteorology program. But while Chloe was intrigued with meteorology and inspired by her father’s interest in the field, her heart lived elsewhere.
“I was obsessed with ‘Animal Planet’ growing up, I have a very outdoorsy family, and I love spending time outside. So when I told my parents I wanted to go to school for meteorology, they were very surprised,” Chloe explains. “I didn’t think about anything else until I got to Valpo. I loved my time in the meteorology department, and I still have a meteorology minor. But I found that I really loved the outdoorsy, biology-based courses that I had then been taking for my environmental science minor. So, I decided to make the switch going into my junior year,” she says.
Switching her major immediately opened the doors to the hands-on classes that would eventually become the highlight of Chloe’s Valpo experience. At Valpo, environmental science is interdisciplinary at its core, placing students in a small number of highly specific courses with a supplemental blend of biology, chemistry, and geography.
“Honestly, some of my favorite memories have been in my classes. Within this specific major, there are so many hands-on opportunities, from identifying bird calls to studying insects,” Chloe says. “I took a field biology class where the entire syllabus was field trips, a plant biology class that’s all about identifying wildflowers, and a geomorphology class that sent us on a weekend trip to the Dunes,” Chloe recalls.
Finding joy and purpose in her classes wasn’t the only thing Chloe gained from pursuing her passion for the environment. Every hands-on application and study she learned at Valpo gave her a leg up in both of her internships, especially in her role as a biology intern for a National Wildlife Refuge System close to her hometown in Hope, Indiana.
“As part of my internship, I helped conduct bird surveys, and that was super helpful for my field biology class where I was being tested on identifying birds and their calls,” Chloe says. But the experience didn’t stop there. “I did so many different tasks that whole summer. Every week was completely different. Some days, I was venturing into grasslands or completing waterfowl surveys; others, I was researching wetlands or tearing out beaver dams. It was a wonderful experience, and I really fell in love with their mission to conserve,” she says.
This last summer, Chloe also had the impressive experience of serving as an ecology assistant for the Indiana Dunes National Park — a Northwest Indiana gem just a 20-minute drive from campus. After applying through Scientists in Parks, an AmeriCorps organization, Chloe put her classroom skills to the test. “As an intern, I was looking a lot at flowering plants; literally the semester before, I was in a plant biology class and our whole big project was identifying flowers. It was so helpful to be able to put that toward my work,” she says. Of course, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Throughout her internship, Chloe worked side by side with a pollinator crew, park rangers, and field specialists to recreate a study from the 1990s to see how the park’s biodiversity has changed over the years — another reason the Dunes hold a special place in our hearts.
So, with two federal internships under her belt, hours of real-world experience, and graduation less than a semester away, what’s next for Chloe? “Whenever I mention I’m going to school for environmental science, people always assume I want to be a park ranger. That’s not necessarily the case. While that’s an amazing job, environmental science is a very diverse field. There are so many different sides to it,” Chloe explains. And she’s right. The possibilities are endless, from graduate school to field work to applying for her dream job back at the National Wildlife Refuge. With all these open doors, we’ll just have to wait and see all the places Chloe will go.
For any students thinking of exploring a different study of interest, here are Chloe’s parting words of advice: “As I look back at my time here at Valpo, I really wish I would’ve switched majors sooner. During my freshman and sophomore years, I knew I wasn’t interested in what I was doing. But I had this fear like, ‘I can’t change now because I’ve already decided.’ That’s not true,” she implores, “So, if you’re having those doubts, my advice would be to change your path and be excited for the opportunities that come with it.”