Michele Lefebvre, PhD’05, knows exactly what graduate students in the School of Biological Sciences need to know about their academic careers at the University of Utah.
“What you learn here,” she advises them, “will apply to any career path you choose. The abilities to critically read, analyze, and write will serve you well on whatever profession you pursue.” It’s the kind of advice that has proven true for her as she navigates the pandemic as an environmental scientist based in Hilo on Hawaii's Big Island.
It hasn’t been without its challenges. “Living on an island in the middle of the Pacific, away from family, has been isolating and hard. Working a full-time, professionally challenging job with two elementary school-aged children at home has also been hard.” But her training and persistence have paid off, and even during an unprecedented pandemic she understands the opportunity in this time of global loss and grief. “I hope our individual searches for what’s important during this time, turn into decisions that improve our lives moving forward.”
The perspective she currently has undoubtedly stems at least in part from her time at the U, in particular in the lab of Don Feener. Following her graduation with a BA in biology from Boston University, Lefebvre realized she wanted to continue conducting research, and Feener was very well respected in the field as a researcher and mentor. “I’m grateful for his patience and the great example he set, which gave me the confidence to tackle the challenges in the program.” The training, which she calls "rigorous," requiring that she develop a skill for attention to detail, translated “directly to the work I currently do,” she says. A Florida native, Lefebvre also has fond memories of learning how to ski while in Utah.
“I started working in environmental consulting after I graduated,” she explains further. “At first, I learned how to conduct biological surveys and write biological reports and impact analysis.” Lefebvre later transitioned to preparing and managing documents that comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Currently, Lefebvre is employed as an environmental impact assessment specialist and project manager for Stantec, an international professional services company in the design and consulting industry. There she conducts impact analyses on resources as a result of a given proposed project. This involves coordinating baseline surveys including biological and cultural inventories. She also assists with stakeholder coordination, which underscores the company's tagline: "We design with community in mind."
Outside of work Lefebvre loves going to the beach with her two daughters, watching (and sometimes swimming with) turtles, snorkeling, and playing in the sand. She also enjoys gardening—her family grows sweet potatoes, bananas, and papaya in their yard and they have a small herb garden. To top it off, Michele loves staying active and runs the Big Island half marathon every year.
It's the culmination of a life of inquiry, passion and hard work, qualities that other graduate students in the School of Biological Sciences are poised to emulate … even during these difficult times when uncertainty reigns.
by David Pace