For 2014 graduate DeAndra (O’Connell) Navratil, a class with Associate Professor Katy Chapman sparked a future career or at least influenced it. The Grand Forks, N.D., native graduated from high school in Texas only to return to the area with plans to major in equine science at the University of Minnesota Crookston.
“When Katy talked about her phytoremediation research—using living plants to clean up soil, air, and water contaminated with hazardous chemicals—I was immediately intrigued,” says Navartil. “It led to a chance to work with her on the research and eventually I changed my major.”
With a degree in applied studies and an emphasis in environmental science,
Navratil stacked her resume with learning experiences that would eventually make her a strong candidate for graduate school, although at the time, she was not conscious of it.
Study abroad trips to India and Spain, along with serving as the student sustainability assistant in the Center for Sustainability; an internship with Clean Energy Resource Teams, both with Professor Dan Svedarsky; and spending the summer prior to graduation working with the GreenStep Cities Initiative laid the foundation for her graduate work at Auburn University in Alabama.
“Working to make cities environmentally friendly and combining that environmental consciousness with tactical urbanism is what I love about the program at Auburn,” she says. “It is hands on, like my experience at the U of M Crookston, and opens the doors to many career options and perhaps continuing my education for a doctorate.
“The everyday decisions we make affect the environment and can influence the health of a city and its people,” she explains. “I want to help find ways to improve the health of people and our environment.
This summer Navratil has been working with Shannon Stassen, Crookston city administrator as part of an internship focused on urban planning. “I knew from following the news in Crookston that the city intended to work on a master plan and the fact that it happened during my internship was fortuitous for me and proved a wonderful learning experience.”
She loved the level of involvement she was allowed as it was both educational and dynamic. “Crookston was such a great fit for me and the people I got to work with were great,” Navratil reflects.
In her first year at Auburn she particularly enjoyed urban economics as well as working as a graduate assistant helping review community plans. Classes in the program combine everything from law to public budgeting.
“When I graduated from the U of M Crookston, I didn’t necessarily have graduate school as a definite goal,” she says. “But, my boyfriend, now husband, Richard Navratil was headed to Georgia to work on his masters in business administration so I decided to look at what was available around me. A full scholarship from Auburn in a program in community planning was perfect for me.”
Her final year at Auburn will keep the newlyweds apart for now. Richard, who graduated this spring, is working in Miamisburg, Ohio, for United Grinding and she will join him after completing her degree next spring.
As she prepares to leave Crookston for the second time, she has two pieces of advice for students pursuing their undergraduate degree. “Don’t be hard on yourself, and always give yourself a shot,” she says. “The future is full of options even ones you may not think are available for you.
“And, hang out with people who you would like to be some day as your older self,” some sage advice from one very bright, talented, young professional.