Student Spotlight: Julianne Fernandez

Julianne Fernandez

Julianne Fernandez
Major: Oceanography

For as long as she can remember, Julianne Fernandez was always curious about the environment and how things worked.

“Creating anything with my hands came with ease,” she said. “During elementary school, I became fully immersed in art class. As new art projects complemented my creativity in middle school, I realized the great detail of this planet, from galaxies to the deep trenches of the ocean. Learning to apply my creativity through a camera in high school granted me the ability to capture what I saw to be extraordinary. But focusing on the physical appearance of nature left me looking for a challenge.”

Barely passing high school, Fernandez didn’t have many options for college and wasn’t sure what her future goals were. So she chose College of DuPage as it was close to home and affordable.

For a time, she was on academic probation and was forced to take the College Success Skills class, which really helped her sort out her priorities.

“Many of the COD professors I had in my math and sciences classes were very passionate about their subjects, which made me want to engage in the material,” she said. “The vast number of different subjects offered at COD allowed me to explore a huge range of them. This is how I explored and discovered my interests, from art to oceanography and environmental sciences.

“Not until I reached specific interest science courses during my last years did I become fully engaged in the subject matter. When ethnobotany took a hold of me, I gained the knowledge of different plant life, various cultural uses, and the impact a plant has on world economy. Oceanography revealed fascinating processes hidden in earth’s oceans, winds and atmosphere. Finding an interest in the sciences and gaining a reason to appreciate education is responsible for my academic success.”

Fernandez earned her Associate in Arts degree at College of DuPage and decided to pursue a bachelor’s in oceanography, as it combined her interests in math, physics and earth science. With access to the ocean limited in the Midwest, she enrolled at Humboldt State University in California.

After her first year at HSU, she participated in a graduate preview program at the University of California in Santa Barbara, which exposed her to potential graduate studies. But she didn’t feel prepared to continue, especially after struggling to maintain a strong GPA. At HSU she received advice through academic programs like the Indian Natural Resource, Science and Engineering Program; the NSF Louis Stoke Alliance for Minority Participation program (LSAMP); and the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in the Sciences (SACNAS). They provided academic resources that helped her improve her study skills.

During the summer of 2012, she participated in the Academic Research Consortium Program at UCSB. Working under mentor Dr. Libe Washburn, she contributed to the development of a calibration method for newly developed Wave Pressure Data Loggers, which she later presented at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Hawaii.

“My attention to detail was put to use as I programmed and fully maintained Acoustic, Doppler, Current Profilers, Conductivity, Temperate, Depth loggers, and other oceanographic instruments for long-term deployment. The environment exposed me to many of the contributing elements that are essential for maintaining a large-scale research project. Gaining experience in properly maintaining ocean instruments expanded a great curiosity about interpreting scientific data and an interest in marine technology development,” she said.

“Outside of my academics, I ventured out to encourage diversity within the male-dominated skateboarding culture by teaching youth and females how to skateboard. Volunteering, mentoring and tutoring as a STEM peer within these programs, I developed leadership skills, motivation and determination that I apply to my path in pursuing a Ph.D.”

During the summer of 2013, she attended UC Berkeley’s Explorations in Science Research Workshop, where her individual research group created a model to predict the pH of seawater near O’ahu, Hawai’i.

Starting her Master of Science in Geology at the University of Cincinnati, Fernandez is focusing on carbon cycling and methane emissions in Lake Erie. She is embarking on her first research cruise of Lake Erie in August 2015 and currently interns at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering in Rock Island, working as a physical science technician within the hydrology and water quality section.

After receiving her master’s, she is determined to pursue a Ph.D. in related studies and then continue on to a career in academia.

“I plan to develop easily comprehensive scientific visuals to better communicate marine research to depict the impacts on the world oceans and atmosphere,” she said. “Contributing to the appreciation of science and inspiring others to take interest is my long-term objective.”

Fernandez believes College of DuPage is a great place to explore interests that could then lead to achieving career goals.

“The courses are well-developed and the professors are just as good as at a four-year college,” she said. “COD’s satellite locations were also convenient when traveling between school, work and home. The dramatic remodel and development of the school has also aided in creating an inviting atmosphere for studying, so breaks between classes can be easily used to be productive.

“The Earth Science courses have great resources and are very hands-on. When I took oceanography, I thought it was fun when I got to create sand beaches in storage bins, like the ones someone would keep under their bed, and used spatulas to observe the effects waves have on a coast. But now, I can only imagine how exciting it is to use the huge custom-made wave tank to see these same concepts.”

More about the Earth Sciences program