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Alumnus well prepared for career with UIU degree

 

Jeff Gard ‘08
Environmental Health Officer III
State Recall Coordinator
State of Alaska

As a child, Jeff Gard ’08 was intrigued by the Earth – from all the vastness the planet offers and the diverse groups of life it sustains. The Dubuque, Iowa, native made it his mission to travel and to see the world. He knew early on that a career in science would offer that opportunity, so he chose to major in environmental science.

Gard received an associate’s degree in science from Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar, Iowa. He then transferred to the University of Dubuque. During the summers of 2006 and 2007, Gard completed internships in Alaska working at the Kenai Watershed Forum. “I gained the confidence needed to launch my career as well as familiarize myself with working out in the field, and I knew I wanted to be in the sciences field,” he said.

As his first year at the University of Dubuque drew to a close, Gard felt the need to find a different program that more closely matched his interests and contained the requirements he needed to be successful in finding a career after graduation. When he was at NICC, he utilized the college’s learning center frequently. The chemistry tutor in the center was Merlin Butikofer, father of Upper Iowa University’s Dr. Jeff Butikofer, associate professor of environmental science. “I remember the conversations with Merlin and how he helped me tremendously with chemistry,” said Gard. “I remember thinking that I should look into Upper Iowa. When I looked at UIU’s website, I found out that Upper Iowa can transfer up to 78 credits from an accredited two-year college or up to 90 credits from a four-year college. I knew this could be a great match.”

Gard then sought the advice of Dr. Kata McCarville, UIU associate professor of geosciences, who explained the environmental science major and its core requirements. “I knew UIU was the school I wanted to go to,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed how the environmental science major is set up and the requirements for that major. The major remains interdisciplinary as it lets one dip into all areas of the sciences instead of just one specified field. In the working world an interdisciplinary approach is better since you gain an all-around feel and appreciation for the sciences.”

049[3]Entering Upper Iowa for the 2007-2008 academic year, Gard had a lot of transfer credits, but still needed to buckle down to graduate in one year. McCarville helped him plan his final year of college.

“Dr. Kata McCarville was my advisor and remains the best teacher I have ever had,” he said. “Her classes were taught with such enthusiasm and genuine interest to see her students succeed that it allowed each class to be exciting and fun; and the best part, we all learned something and took something from it. The reason I was really able to graduate on such short time was due to Dr. Kata McCarville. Kata worked with me and challenged me to complete my core requirements for my major. Since she was my advisor we knew what classes were needed and the scheduling of those required classes.”

For his senior project, Gard focused on the monitoring of small fresh water streams, rivers and lakes, as well as identifying the sources of pollutants, and working to reduce or eliminate hydrocarbon pollution. “To show the importance of my work, I completed laboratory work exposing lumbriculus (blackworms) and daphnia magna (water fleas) to  different exposures of pyrene to show the effects of hydrocarbons on freshwater organisms,” Gard said. “Dr. McCarville encouraged me to submit my thesis project to the 2008 National Science Conference in Ames, Iowa. Two other students including myself presented our posters and explained about our work. I was pleased with my thesis work, and it was a great experience presenting to faculty and students before graduation. Not many students can say, especially undergraduates, that they completed a thesis; and my thesis research allowed me to gain the practical knowledge of writing scientific papers and gaining work experience.”

After graduating from Upper Iowa in 2008 with a 4.0 GPA, Gard was hired by Dynamac Corporation, a company contracted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The position was required to conduct a survey of 6,200 plants as part of the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) Plant Profile Data Collection for the Public Health Information System (PHIS).  Gard was a leader of planning, conducting inspections, writing inspection reports, performing investigations, and issuing permits for all meat/poultry processing facilities in the state of Illinois.

After living in Chicago for two years and dealing with city life and traffic, Gard and his wife needed a change.  “We always wanted to get back up to Alaska, which is where we met,” he said. “We fell in love with Alaska when we met at the summer internship working for the Kenai Watershed Forum and knew we wanted to be back. I started looking at the State of Alaska website for jobs and found an opening, and my wife was accepted into graduate school at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. We moved to Alaska in January 2011. We love it up here and can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

296791_3677919310330_1227870207_n[1]Gard is currently an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) III, as well as the State Recall Coordinator and lead EHO in charge of the State of Alaska food safety database, which is called the Digital Health Department (DHD). Additionally, he manages two health technicians and one administrative personnel.

“As an EHO, we perform inspections, plan reviews, permitting, investigations, compliance reviews, and enforcement actions of retail food establishments (e.g., restaurants, labor camps, hospitals, markets); food processors (e.g., water bottlers, bakeries, seafood processors, shellfish growers); and public facilities (e.g., schools, pools, spas, day-care facilities, beauty salons, body art shops),” said Gard. “We determine compliance with a variety of food safety and environmental health standards; provide training in and promote practices to restrict contamination or spread of disease; investigate disease outbreaks; and ensure proper packaging, marking, and labeling of products or materials. “

“I thoroughly enjoy my job since it keeps me challenged as the work requires comprehensive knowledge of the content and purpose of environmental health statutes and regulations and broad knowledge of business practices in the regulated industries.”

“My position has taken me all over Alaska that only some people get to dream about, and I am fortunate to have this opportunity to explore my beautiful state. Some of the places I have visited in Alaska include Villages in Western Alaska (Alaskan Tundra), King Salmon, Dillingham, Cordova and Prince William Sound, Kodiak, Sitka, Seward, Homer, Kenai, Soldotna, and Fairbanks. The State also keeps us up to date with training and conferences, so we are usually going back for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) trainings in the lower 48 throughout the year too,” he said.

Gard said his Upper Iowa environmental science degree fully prepared him for his position. “Dr. McCarville always stated that one of her major goals was to prepare her students for the real world, and the UIU degree did that for me. By having the thesis research and lectures that tied into real-world thinking, I have been able to think critically and to put everything I learned from UIU into my job.”

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