CU-Boulder student life: Senior's interest in environment becomes career path

Published: Dec. 20, 2012

CU-Boulder senior Joel Jones says he’s been interested in the environment since he was a kid. He started getting serious about it in high school, where in one of his classes he learned about buildings that were designed with the environment in mind. That class helped propel his interest into a career path.

“I didn’t know about environmental engineering until I came here to CU, and once I learned about it, I decided to make it my focus for my undergraduate career,” said Jones, who will graduate on Dec. 21 with a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental engineering.

In addition to his classes, Jones has made the most of the undergraduate research opportunities available to him. He gained lab experience working with Professor Joe Ryan on a research project measuring how mercury makes its way from the environment to fish, where it forms a neurotoxin.

“I was involved in lab work designed to understand how mercury from coal combustion that is deposited in forest soils gets from the soil to water and then to fish,” he said.

An avid outdoors sports enthusiast and a native of Honolulu, Jones says he enjoys being close to the mountains and foothills near Boulder. So when he learned of an opportunity to conduct environmental research outside in another professor’s lab, he jumped. The project, called the Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory is funded by the National Science Foundation to study how water, atmosphere, ecosystems, and soils interact and shape the Earth's surface.

“Currently I am doing field work in the mountains around Boulder and Nederland, collecting water samples and other data for scientists at CU and around the world,” Jones said. “We go up a few times a week, every week of the year to collect water and snow samples.”

Once he graduates, he plans to continue his work with the project, before deciding whether to attend graduate school or go into the field of environmental engineering.

As for students just getting started at CU, Jones says to try to get to know the professors.

“It might be a little weird at first talking to your professors, but that’s how I found out about the research projects I was involved with,” he said. “Those opportunities have been the most important part of my time here.”