Featuring Hood Graduate Alumnus | Charlie Kwak, Environmental Biology M.S.'18
Charlie Kwak graduated from Hood College with an M.S. in Environmental Biology in 2018
- Environmental Biology (M.S.)
Can you provide a quick bio? Any general background that you would like to share, as well as your educational and career background.
I graduated from Wheaton College, IL in 2015 with B.S. in Biology. My first job out of college was being a teacher in North Carolina. While teaching environmental stewardship to students, I developed a passion for environmental stewardship and I decided to enroll in an M.S. in Environmental Biology with a Geographic Information System (GIS) application at Hood College, MD. I liked that the Hood Environmental Biology program offered an option to pair a GIS certificate with the degree.
Why did you choose Hood College Graduate School?
During my time at Hood College, I attended many public events organized by the Graduate School. Some of the more memorable events included a Grad Town Hall, a Talk with the Dean, and various alumni events. I attended these meetings because they served food (!) and also because I wanted to meet, connect and learn from people who went through the program before me and received as much wisdom as possible! I don’t think I missed any "Talk with the Dean" events since that meant I got to talk with April Boulton, Ph.D. over dinner - she’s very friendly, so don’t be afraid.
How has your Hood College graduate degree helped further your career and/or your life?
My status as a graduate student gave me a special eligibility to apply for many internship positions. Simply being a student in an ENV graduate program opened up doors to innumerable opportunities to apply for many interesting places. For instance, I went to Guam National Wildlife Refuge through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), the White House through the White House Internship Program, and Winnemucca District Office located in Nevada through Bureau of Land Management – all while I was a student at Hood! (These programs are called DFP and DHA for those who are interested). Additionally, I was able to complete a part of my GIS certification requirements through the Maryland Department of Resources locally using a GPS drone built by the robotics department at Hood. The best part about these experiences was that I could balance both the internship and school since Hood College classes are scheduled in the evening.
Although I was incredibly blessed to have been selected for these unique internships, I want to stress that none of these things would have been possible were it not for the help and encouragement that I received from many alumni, professors, and my academic advisor (Dr. Boulton). Professors wrote me shining recommendations, read through my application essays, and connected me with key contacts that could help me. I also have to point out that the number of rejection letters I received is far greater than the measly number of acceptance letters I received; in fact, the above mentioned is all that I got. To put it into perspective, I applied for 17 positions for the USFWS directorate fellowship program in 2017. I received 16 rejection letters before I qualified for the 17th! So, I encourage everyone to do your best to apply to any and every opportunity available even if you think you are not going to get it. Opportunities are out there and resources are all around you at Hood College.
What did you enjoy about Hood College? Do you have a favorite memory?
My favorite parts about my experience at Hood were my professors and my peers. The ENV program cohort started with 12 or so students from all different walks of life – some were in the field of ENV, some were not; regardless, the relatively small number of students made it rather easy for me to get to know everyone over time. Every class I enrolled in had students from my cohort who soon became my friends. One truly remarkable trait that characterized our cohort was that we all genuinely embodied a spirit of helpful cooperation towards each other rather than that of intense competition. Correspondingly, we helped each other complete assignments, informed each other of various opportunities, and rejoiced together after every milestone each person had reached. At times, we commiserated together over massive assignments, spent hours during weekends working on a same project, and quizzed each other before tests. One peer from my cohort – Mia Zimnik – and I took every class together from beginning of the program to the end. We were an inspiration as well as a motivation to each other throughout the program, delighting and celebrating in each other’s’ success. We spent many hours together in GIS labs, sometimes into wee hours of the night. In retrospect, I think that the neighborly and cooperative dynamic my cohort personified was a large part of what made my Hood graduate experience great.
My favorite professor was Dr. Jeffrey Feaga who was full of practical knowledge from his work experience. His courses were the toughest but also the best. He brought field equipment into the classroom to illustrate his lesson plans. He stayed late to answer questions, and never compromised the rigor of academic scholarship even when the icy weather canceled the meeting; the class took place online on those days, and he gave us special assignments that were somehow just as enlightening and engaging as meeting in class. I think he truly believed in us and held us to a higher standard. I am so grateful for my Hood experience because of these reasons.