Undergraduate experiences ignite two alums’ career paths

Brianna Hutchins ‘23 and Caroline Etherton ‘23 continue to fuel their passion for environmental sustainability in the Chesapeake Conservation and Climate Corps

By JAMIE ABELL on January 21, 2024

Brianna Hutchins and Caroline Etherton pose for a selfie in front of a mountain in Costa Rica
Brianna Hutchins '23 (left) and Caroline Etherton '23 pose for a selfie during their study abroad program in Costa Rica. 

Graduation looming on the horizon can be scary. Jumping into the real world is no small feat. However, for Brianna Hutchins ‘23 and Caroline Etherton ‘23, it was anything but frightening. Walking across the stage in spring 2023 meant they got to take the first step in their careers and they were ready. 

Both are current Chesapeake Conservation and Climate Corps (the Corps) members, where they’re training with experts in relevant fields.

Hutchins earned a degree in environmental science and studies with a concentration in environmental biology and is part of the Phytoplankton and Harmful Algae Bloom Monitoring Program at Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). She focuses specifically on collecting algal samples and managing phytoplankton data. For a capstone, Hutchins will create image libraries for the DNR’s new FlowCam, a laboratory instrument that produces plankton photographs previously only available with traditional microscopy.

Caroline Etherton and coworker hammering a stake into the ground.
Caroline Etherton '23 (right) at work.

Etherton earned her degree in cell and molecular biology and focuses on conservation and restoration. In her capstone project, she is playing an integral role in adding Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine and Hampton National Historic Site to the Climate Friendly Parks list. She will take greenhouse gas inventories and find ways for both parks to reduce their emissions and become more sustainable. 

Being at TU and in the Fisher College of Science & Mathematics helped both alums land their current positions. “I’ve always been interested in conservation but didn’t think about pursuing it as a career until my last year at TU,” says Etherton. “Being at TU introduced me to so many people and experiences that taught me about what I’m really interested in. The experience was special for me.”

As members of the Beta cohort in the Hill-Lopes Scholars Program, the pair found a community of women in STEM that provided guidance and supported their goals. 

“I was so lucky to join the [Hill-Lopes Scholars] program because I met and interacted with so many cool people,” says Hutchins. “I did a lot of networking and professional development and had conversations about being a woman in STEM. The community validated my feelings about doubting myself at times and helped me overcome it.” 

Brianna and Caroline stand together on floating bridge in Costa Rica.
Hutchins (left) and Etherton in Costa Rica.

Experiential learning also played a major role in their decisions to pursue careers in environmental sustainability. The new alums studied abroad through a faculty-led program: TU Environmental Studies & Conservation in Costa Rica. For two weeks, they lived in Costa Rica, learning about ecological conservation and working with local community members to complete environmental action projects. 

“I was hesitant to apply for study abroad at first, but I found several scholarship options which made it more feasible,” says Etherton. “I got to learn a lot from so many people and received an introduction to the more formal aspects of the environmental fields. I also met potential peers and built a relationship with faculty members that helped me land the internship I have now!” 

Hutchins and Etherton have another thing in common: the bonds they built with Cynthia Etgen and Sarah Haines, professors of biological sciences and program leaders for the Costa Rica study abroad experience. Etgen and Haines encouraged Hutchins and Etherton to pursue the study abroad opportunity and shared the Corps opportunities with them. They also supported them through the application process. 

“Professors at TU, especially in the Honors College, taught me to think critically, which has not just been helpful in my role now but also just in life,” says Etherton.

Both alums have ambitious plans. Etherton also has graduate school on her radar. She is trying to determine how to incorporate biology into energy and restoration within the environment. Eventually, though, she wants to become a biological scientist working in resource conservation, hopefully with the National Park Service.

Brianna Hutchins '23 standing in water with oysters
Brianna Hutchins on site during her internship.

Hutchins would like to pursue a combination of lab, field and office work and is considering graduate school to earn a degree in environmental biology with a focus on water-related research.

“I’m excited to help people understand that their actions to help protect our water might seem like a small thing, but they are the right thing – and everyone needs to do their part,” says Hutchins about her future in the field. “We all depend on water for economic, health and recreational reasons and need it to be clean. I’m glad I can be part of it all.