One of a Kind: Interdisciplinary Student Amy Donlin

Amy Donlin Degree Concentrations: Arts and Humanities; Applied, Technical, and Professional Studies; History and Social Sciences

Sometimes, fate sneaks up and surprises you when you are looking the other way... or at least it did for Multidisciplinary Studies (MdS) student Amy Donlin.

While dropping off her daughter, Piper, at Bailey Hall for her freshman year in 2009, an advertisement for the College's interdisciplinary degree programs caught Donlin's eye.

"I was at the point where I realized I had to finish my degree to get the kind of job I wanted in my field. I was a single mom, caregiver to my own mother, with a daughter just starting college... I needed a good job, with benefits, and for that I needed a degree. But I hadn't found one that really allowed me to combine my interests into something that would work for me," she says.

"But then, dropping Piper off, there was that sign. I attended the info session, met a whole tableful of great people, and knew instantly I had found my home."

Amy Donlin MDS Student

Through the MdS program, Donlin was able to craft a degree plan that encompassed her interests in art, natural history, ecology, and sustainability, with the end goal of working full-time as a naturalist and environmental educator. It's a career that up until now, she has only been able to do on a part-time basis.

"I work as a summer naturalist at Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Lake, and have been working at nature centers for most of the last decade," she says. "But to get a full-time job in this field is exceptionally difficult. Jobs are few and far between, with most opportunities being seasonal, or part-time, like I've been working. And without a degree... I've not been in any position to compete.

As the daughter of conservationist and waterfowl management pioneer Art Hawkins, Donlin grew up in a family with strong ties to the outdoors, a passion that shaped all of their lives—as well as the lives of their children. Donlin's two siblings went on to become a waterfowl biologist and a US Forest Service wilderness ranger. Daughter Piper is studying environmental science policy management through the College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Science.

"It's in my blood," she says. "I just love this job—being able to mentor kids, help get them into nature. It's great to be able to expose youth to something that they might not have at home or in school. We roll up our sleeves and pant legs and go looking for tadpoles in the puddles. We find pictures in the clouds, learn how to use scientific methods to understand the world.

"Whether you're an adult or a kid, Tamarack is such a happy, spirited place. It's a place where people can come and hear the crickets and the birds and the frogs, hike or ski or snowshoe the trails, get lost in the prairie grasses. No one has to be rushed or hurried. For many people, it's a deeply spiritual place—it's their church, their place to commune with bigger things."

Donlin concludes, "My degree has been a beautiful pairing of my interests with courses and fieldwork. I think it says to employers 'This person has a fire in her belly. She's ready to do incredible work for us, and isn't afraid to face challenges.' I hope, one day, it will bring me to a place just like this one."