Jenny Johanson; Ph.D. StudentJenny Johanson

Jenny received her Bachelor of Science degree in geology from the University of Minnesota – Duluth in 1985, and came to UW Milwaukee for her master’s degree. She broke her leg playing soccer and conducted her field work from her wheelchair while she recovered. She started working as an environmental consultant before she completed her thesis, and her advisor predicted she would never return. But she did come back in 1990 to successfully defend her thesis and earn her Master of Science degree in Geosciences here at UWM. That was a fairly typical grad school experience. Well, maybe not the wheelchair part.

Fast forward through 20 years. Jenny and her husband had 3 kids and multiple pets, and the family grew and thrived. She worked as an environmental consultant for 13 years, identifying and remediating areas of groundwater and soil contamination, but her science role was slowly replaced by a sales and marketing focus. So she returned to UWM in 2000 to complete her teaching certification, and taught high school chemistry for three years. Although she enjoyed teaching, she missed the environmental focus.

In 2003 Jenny accepted an opportunity to teach at Alverno College and direct the Environmental Science Program. Jenny had kept in touch with the UWM geosciences faculty, and discussed the possibility of returning to UWM for her doctoral degree on a part time basis. The stars aligned, and she began the journey in 2008 (as she was recovering from a broken arm from playing soccer – déjà vu?). Thus far she has been completing coursework and talking with faculty about their many varied and fascinating fields of research to try and narrow her focus. She has recently settled on hydrogeologic biogeochemistry as an area of interest for her research, a subject in which she plans to become passionately interested. Her research will focus on how surface properties of bacteria can affect their transport in groundwater.

  1. What is your hometown?
    I’m originally from Minnetonka Minnesota, but for the last 15 years Waukesha is home (I even call drinking fountains bubblers).
  2. What are your previous degrees?
    I completed my BS in Geology at the University of Minnesota – Duluth, then I moved out here to complete my Master of Science in Geosciences. The Great Lakes are a big draw.
  3. What is your expected graduation date?
    I’m a part time student so I might to be done by 2013 but it all depends on my research and whether I have any more soccer injuries. They tend to slow me down.
  4. What is your field of study and how would you describe it to a prospective graduate student?
    I will be looking at bacteria in groundwater and what factors influence how bacteria are transported through the subsurface with groundwater. I have always been interested in hydrogeology, which is the study of groundwater; its flow, its interaction with surface water and other geologic materials. But after 13 years of looking at groundwater contamination and 10 years of teaching chemistry, I developed an interest in groundwater geochemical interactions. There are so many ways to study groundwater and its interactions that it has been really hard to settle on one research project. Looking at the biogeochemistry of microbes found in groundwater combines many interest areas together.
  5. What brought you to UWM to study Geosciences for your graduate degree?
    I came here originally in 1985 for my Master of Science degree, and my thesis work involved hydrogeologic and geoelectrical methods. The faculty and staff here have always been great. I kept in touch over the years, came to Christmas parties and retirements and so forth, so when I decided to get my terminal degree UWM was a natural choice.
  6. What's been your best experience so far?
    Although I have really enjoyed the geosciences courses I have taken, I’d have to say that the GeoCorps America internship at Glacier National Park this past summer has been my favorite experience. It was 12 weeks of spectacular scenery in the northern Rock Mountains, and it was absolutely fantastic; a summer of hiking, canoeing, and telling park visitors about the geologic history of one of the most beautiful places on earth. I took hundreds of pictures, and each time I look at them it brings me right back there.
  7. In graduate School, have you gotten the opportunity to travel as part of your education?
    The GeoCorps internship at Glacier National Park allowed me to travel to Montana and Canada, and I saw a lot more national parks on the way out and back home. Although the department has had a number of travel opportunities, my research and interests are here for the time being, but I might take advantage of some of the travel opportunities in the future.
  8. What trait or thing has allowed you to succeed in graduate school?
    Curiosity and perseverance are my keys to success in grad school. The coursework and research are always giving me a glimpse into something new that I had not thought about before. I am curious to find out more; to see if I can find the answer. Sometimes my brain feels like it wears out trying to figure out the answers, or trying to plow through some scientific or mathematical text, and sometimes I have to put down a problem and come back to it later, but I always do come back to it later to try and figure out more.
  9. Do you have any advice that you would give to a new graduate student in your program?
    Look for the parts of each class that really interest you, celebrate the small successes, and take pride in your work.
  10. What has been the hardest part about being a graduate student (Is there anything that you've had to "give up" as a graduate student)?
    Actually, the hardest thing is trying to prioritize my time. In addition to grad school, my time is split between my family (my husband Steve and our three kids Ian, Patrick, and Megyn), a full time teaching job at Alverno College, two dogs and three cats, the house and yard work, soccer, tae kwon do, and everything else. Obviously all this is too much to maintain indefinitely, so I had to give up cleaning the house, and the garden may never recover.
  11. What are your plans after you graduate?
    I was thinking maybe a bottle of wine, a hammock next to a lake with a cool summer breeze… I plan to continue to teach environmental science at Alverno College, but who knows, I may also do some collaborative research.
  12. How would you describe the Department of Geosciences at UWM to a prospective student?
    The overall collegial atmosphere of the Geoscience department is great. The faculty members are extremely intelligent and very easy to work with, the support staff are all extremely helpful, and my fellow geology students are all really engaged in what is going on around here. There are social activities and opportunities to share your research in discussion lunches and semi formal presentations.
  13. What has been your favorite activity while you’ve been in Graduate School in Milwaukee?
    Pick one favorite activity? Can’t do it. I like taking my dogs to the dog park, going to the lakefront, canoeing the Fox River, seeing the fireworks all summer long at the many festivals… but if I had to pick one, I suppose soccer would be pretty near the top. I started playing when I moved out here. I play both indoor and outdoor, and have switched from a intramural coed league to a recreational coed league to a women’s league and – aside from the injuries – have enjoyed every minute of playing time. It is impossible to think about other problems when you are in the middle of a soccer game, so it is a great stress reliever.
  14. What do you most enjoy about Milwaukee?
    There are so many things to do and places to see; beautiful parks, outdoor activities, scenic lakes and rivers, great places to eat, great beers to drink (try one of the many brewery tours), beautiful colors in the fall, concerts and theatre, the list is endless. Even when I am sitting on the couch with a stack of papers to read, it’s nice to know that somebody is out there enjoying themselves, and someday I might be able to get out there and join them.

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