STEM and Simmons: Field Notes from an Environmental Geochemist

April 29, 2016

Helen Jones

Helen Jones '02 is speaking at our May Day celebration on Sunday!

What was your major at Simmons and what's your current job title?

I majored in chemistry & mathematics. I'm a Geochemist.

Tell us about environmental geochemistry.

Geochemistry focuses on the chemical processes of the earth (and other planets) such as how certain rocks are formed or what drives the convection within the earth's mantle. Environmental geochemistry is concerned with the study of the earth's environmental history. The aspect that I most often work with is predicting the fate and transport of pollutants in the environment. Studying this allows us to determine the direction of contaminant movement through soil and water which eventually is used to clean up the pollution.

What's a typical day like at your job?

My days can be very different depending on whether I'm in the office or out sampling a site. In the office, I'm generally checking out chemical data for a contaminated site and looking for patterns in the concentrations of contaminants. In the field, I'm collecting sediment, surface water, soil, or groundwater samples for chemical or toxicological analysis.

What's your favorite part of your job?

My favorite projects are the ones I'm able to follow from the first site characterization — designing the initial sampling plan, following through with the remedial investigation and finally helping to kick off the remediation. This level of familiarity with a project really helps me to figure out what is going on with the pollutants at a site.

How did you know your organization was a good fit for you?

I never have a chance to get bored and am inspired to continue learning about new sampling techniques to better characterize contamination. Doing a mix of data analysis in the office and sampling outside keeps me on my toes. I want to do the best job I can to get sites to a place where they can be cleaned up.

What was your favorite class you took at Simmons? Why?

There is no way I could choose just one class from my time at Simmons. My chemistry professors made me love my classes so much that I ended up changing my major to chemistry. It wasn't all science for me though, I also took every photography class I could fit into my schedule. Developing film and printing photographs in the darkroom was a nice way to bring science and art together.

What's the best career advice you've gotten along the way?

Always say yes to opportunity. Do not be afraid. Do not sell yourself short. Take every chance you can to talk to the important people in your field.

What advice would you give to the current Simmons students considering a career in STEM?

Don't be afraid of the sciences! If you're interested in a STEM field, then do everything you can to learn about it. Find a summer job related to your interests, seek out the smart people in your field and do everything you can to learn from everyone you can find.

What will your speech at May Day focus on?

I'll be telling stories about what I've encountered while working to illustrate the need to care for our environment.

How did you celebrate May Day when you were at Simmons?

I remember watching the maypole festivities and the breakfast fondly.

What's your Simmons Moment?

It's hard to choose a single moment — but I always loved the general feeling on campus. Some of my closest friends are from Simmons and I will always be grateful that my professors seemed to go out of their way to point me toward various opportunities in chemistry while I was a student.