The College of Sciences and Humanities boasts many successful alumni who are using their Ball State skills to contribute to professions within their field. We celebrate their successes and the preparation of a Ball State education in our Cardinal Directions series.
Meet Jenny Sunday
Hi, I am Jenny Sunday. I attended Ball State from 2011 to 2013 and graduated with a Master’s of Science in Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM). I am originally from the western suburbs of Chicago and received a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from Wisconsin. I enjoy playing recreational volleyball, hiking, tending to my houseplant collection, and participating in game nights with friends.
Tell us about your current job. We’d love to hear about the day-to-day work and your broader projects.
I work for the City of New York Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). I have been with DEP since June 2018. In my role as a Senior Program Manager, I manage a portfolio of green infrastructure construction projects on NYC Parks property. DEP is responsible for installing green infrastructure to meet state consent order guidelines to clean up NYC waterways. NYC has combined storm and sanitary sewers that overflow directly into waterways in heavy storm events. Green infrastructure aims to capture and infiltrate stormwater before it reaches the combined sewer and discharges into NYC waterways.
The parkland green infrastructure retrofit program consists of projects that retrofit rain gardens, synthetic turf fields, permeable pavement, and subsurface retention systems into existing NYC Parks properties. In my day-to-day work, I coordinate design reviews and construction issues between DEP design teams and NYC Parks agency stakeholders, liaise and negotiate with agency officials on program wide issues, report on program status, and provide recommendations for successful green infrastructure implementation.
Describe your career path. Did you land your current job immediately after graduation or find your way there circuitously?
Briefly before graduating from Ball State, I accepted a position as an Environmental Scientist at a small private consulting firm. I spent five years at Environment & Archaeology, LLC, three in Florence, Kentucky and two in Knoxville, Tennessee. After two years under a Senior Project Manager, I was able to take on clients myself when a different senior staff member left. I coordinated and managed the scope, schedule, and budget on a wide variety of environmental permitting projects for commercial developments and utility line construction.
Throughout my experience I learned federal, state, and local level wetland and waterway permitting requirements across multiple states in order to ensure project compliance. I became very confident communicating with officials within city, state, and federal agencies as well as clients and field staff. I started looking to move to NYC in 2017. The main focus of my projects was protecting natural resources and creating stormwater pollution prevention plans. My education and experience linked well to apply to work on projects that capture stormwater at DEP.
How have you grown and learned in your successive jobs that have led to your current position?
I always tried to seize any available opportunity to grow in my position. I came into a lot of new experiences by offering to step up when someone above me left or needed help. Taking on new responsibilities, while making sure to also be compensated, paid off to give me a lot more experience. I gain the most from having a mentor early on who shared their job and tasks with me well before I was ready to take them on. I was able to see what my future would look like in a new or expanded role. Every job may not offer the opportunity, but I stayed a long time at my first company because I had a supervisor who mentored me in project management.
Starting at a small firm allowed me to try a lot of different tasks and see what I liked and excelled at most. Teaching others below me how to do my job has also opened up doors. I like to share knowledge so that if an opportunity to move opens up, there is not a hesitation with management that you are the only one who can do your tasks. I try to be the best at what I do, but hoarding information or processes might have made it harder to move up since I would have been so heavily relied upon for that information or those tasks.
What is the most fulfilling part of your current job?
The most fulfilling part of my current job is creating and keeping a rapport with the various program stakeholders from the general public to agency commissioners. Finding out what stakeholders need and being able to obtain their support and manage expectations ensures a successful project. I have very much enjoyed spearheading a new program that combines green innovation and intergovernmental work. I was hired on at inception and was able to create and refine processes, templates, and tracking measures.
What are the most valuable skills you learned as a Ball State student in the College of Sciences and Humanities? How have they helped you post-graduation?
The most valuable skills I learned in the College of Science and Humanities were project management, stakeholder management, wetland delineations, and ArcGIS.
Preparing a plan for a thesis research study, executing it, and meeting deadlines was an excellent learning opportunity for the real world. Completing a thesis gives employers an immense amount of confidence in you being able to self-motivate and finish tasks successfully. Learning GIS during graduate school helped immensely to get my foot in the door at several places I interviewed.
Is there a particular class, professor, or professional opportunity that had a particularly significant impact on you?
My professor and thesis chair, Dr. Joshua Gruver, had a significant impact on me at Ball State. I was very lucky to have a research assistantship studying stakeholder views on natural resources. The research study provided me an opportunity to manage a large scale research project and focus on private and public views of natural resource management, specifically restoring and preserving wetlands in the Little River watershed. I learned a lot about stakeholder management, engagement, and communication from farmers, conservationists, developers, and community members.
NREM was a great department with a lot of real world opportunities. I took a wetlands class with NREM the summer of 2012 that taught wetland delineation in the field. The class taught a hard skill that many employers were looking for in my job search.
What advice do you have for current or future students in your major or who might hope to follow your career path?
My advice would be to try out as many different hard skills as you can that are offered within your courses. I would recommend taking a GIS class, learning how to sample soils, take measurements, identify plants, etc. Ball State offered so many opportunities to really make myself marketable after graduation as I was able to point to specific skills learned throughout my time there in addition to my degree. Searching job postings for similar positions you want a year or two before graduation will help you define skills and educational areas to continue to focus on.
To learn more about the Department of Environment, Geology, and Natural Resources, visit their website or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about Ball State’s graduate school and programs to enhance your career here.