After taking a medical leave of absence from the University of Oklahoma following a sudden onset of a chronic illness her freshman year, Julie Bahr found solace in nature.
Bahr, who is from Brownsburg, Indiana, shared that she was feeling “down in the dumps” and “struggling with depression” from having to take time off school and being sick all the time. One physical activity she could do while recovering was going on bike rides. Initially, Bahr was considering environmental law, but the healing process made her realize her desire to pursue a career that would allow her to spend time outside.
“That was sort of a turning point for me where I realized I don't want to be sitting in an office all day,” explained Bahr, who double majored in English and environmental sustainability with minors in Spanish and geographic information systems. “I'm going to be outside in the sunshine, doing the same sort of work with the same goal in mind of helping people and helping the planet, but working from a different perspective being out in the fields and having a more active role in the nitty-gritty side of it.”
OU has several majors that have an environmental focus, Bahr explained, but she settled on environmental sustainability because “I felt like it was such a unique perspective and a holistic view of the environment that let me incorporate humanities-based theory applications as well as fieldwork.”
For the past two years, Bahr has worked as a research assistant at the Oklahoma Water Survey, located on OU’s research campus. She was a technician for the COVID-19 wastewater project, which is a collaboration between the Oklahoma Water Survey and Dr. Brad Stevenson’s microbiology lab. Through this project, wastewater samples from campus were tested for variants of the coronavirus. Bahr’s role was to help collect the samples from six different sites each morning.
“We normally work on research related to water quality monitoring techniques or field projects like sampling streams for bacteria or even some map analysis, so you usually know what to expect,” Bahr explained. “Then suddenly we're sampling sewer water for COVID-19, and it’s been an incredible learning opportunity and an unforgettable experience.”
Beginning as a freshman, Bahr was active with Green Week and served as the event chair this past year. On the English side, she was involved with The Aster Review, a student-centered literary and fine arts journal, and was the editor-in-chief of The Honors Undergraduate Research Journal. Bahr, who is a National Merit Scholar, was named the Outstanding Senior in the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences.
“The connection between my education and my future career has been really strong, and I feel supported and encouraged to pursue those opportunities."
- Julie Bahr
Bahr has joined the Oklahoma Water Survey as a full-time employee and will be working through at least December. Eventually, she plans to attend graduate school and would like to work for the government or a federal agency, maybe as a conservation scientist for the National Park Service or a geospatial data analyst for NASA.
Whatever her next step ends up being, Bahr believes OU has positioned her well. Her time as a research assistant has provided her with valuable field experience, and the opportunities to connect with environmental organizations and get professional experience as an undergraduate have been helpful.
Bahr added she’s had professors who have mentored her and helped her throughout the process of considering graduate schools and applying for internships, about which both her academic advisor and professors kept students updated on various opportunities they’ve heard about.
“The connection between my education and my future career has been really strong, and I feel supported and encouraged to pursue those opportunities,” Bahr explained.