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So what can you do with a science degree?

Meet science grad Tina Yerkes, zoology major, [Ph.D./98], general manager of global filtration products, NSF International

August 17, 2015 — 

Tina Yerkes [Ph.D./98], zoology major, is at the forefront of protecting global public health. As general manager of global filtration products, NSF International, she validates the claims of manufactures of drinking water purification and filtration products produced worldwide.

“Water is an essential element of life and it has become an immense global public health issue; the quality of water is so bad in some places that you can’t drink it much less take a shower in it,” comments Yerkes.

Image courtesy of nsf.org

Founded in 1944, NSF is committed to protecting human health and safety. Operating in more than 155 countries. NSF is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization and an independent third party certifier of food, water and health products.

Her work impacts both manufacturers and consumers alike. She travels throughout North America and internationally to places like Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia, Singapore, and India. She ensures products adhere to strict NSF certification standards and educates others on the importance of purchasing water filtration products that meet NSF certification. According to a report released by the World Health Organization, (WHO), as of 2011, there were approximately 768 million people without access to clean drinking water.

Yerkes has always been passionate about water quality and conservation. Growing up in the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, stretching 200 miles from Maryland to Virginia, she fell in love with the wonder and complexity of the natural world around her and soon understood the importance and frailty of that ecosystem.

As Yerkes explains in an article published by Ducks Unlimited titled, “Conserving the Chesapeake Bay”, the land has undergone immense changes, due to urban sprawl and the effects of 15 million people who now reside there. “Human-induced changes have resulted in a major underlying problem, poor water quality,” which threatens the future of the Bay’s ecosystem.

The oldest of four, and the only girl, some of her fondest childhood memories are of trekking through the woods and marshland with her grandfather, an avid outdoors man and hunter. So it is no surprise that she would pursue a career with a focus on the environment and outdoors. With multiple degrees in science, Yerkes became a research scientist, an expert on water quality, an educator and leader directing conservation efforts.

Graduate studies at the U of M

She has had an impressive career but what brought her to Manitoba was work at the Delta Waterfowl Research Station in Portage la Prairie. It was there that she met Cynthia Bloom, an adjunct professor at the University of Manitoba and became really interested in the research being done there on waterfowl.

It was meant to be a summer diversion, a research experience that would compliment her progression on to a doctorate of science degree, which she planned to complete at Louisiana State University (LSU). Yerkes had already earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in ecology and chemistry from Johns Hopkins University. However, upon returning to LSU that fall she realized her research interests were back in Manitoba and so she transferred her doctoral studies to the University of Manitoba.

Back in Manitoba, the focus of her Ph.D. thesis became the redhead hen, a parasitic species that employs a variety of reproductive strategies that include laying their eggs in other species nests or in their own, sometimes employing one or the other strategy and sometimes both. She was compelled to discover why redheads behaved this way. After spending years out in the marshlands of Minnedosa she completed her thesis. Her findings revealed that the redhead hen’s reproductive strategies were based on a combination of factors including: environmental conditions, food supply and the hen’s own body mass. In 1998, Yerkes received her Ph.D. in zoology with an emphasis on wetlands and waterfowl from the University of Manitoba.

Building an impressive career

Following her Ph.D. she spent time as a research scientist studying different types of waterfowl in many remote parts of North America. She studied pintails in Alaska, Canada geese in Labrador and Newfoundland, mallard ducks in the Great Lakes, snow geese in the Hudson Bay and she also did field work in the southern United States and the Chesapeake Bay area.

Yerkes went on to complete an executive education program from Harvard Business School in strategic planning and finance, which propelled her career into leadership positions as the chief operating officer of the Stewardship Network and in management roles at Ducks Unlimited, where over the course of twelve years her role expanded concluding as the director of conservation programs.

She continues to inspire and educate others on the importance of the environment and preserving the natural world. The proud mother of three boys, she tries to instill in them the same love for the outdoors. When time allows they enjoy spending time together in the woods hunting and fishing.

The author of numerous publications; her work has appeared extensively in peer-reviewed publications, such as the Journal of Wildlife Management. She has also published numerous articles that have earned her several popular press awards. As Yerkes explains, “It is often a challenge as a scientist to step out of the scientific jargon and explain concepts to the public using common language, ” adding she gained this skill through her experience as an educator of children and adults. Yerkes held teaching positions at Humbolt State University, the University of Manitoba; she taught children at the secondary level, working for the Baltimore County Public School System.

Advice to students

When asked what advice she would offer to current students Yerkes says, “I often see students get locked in on a single career path and this can be limiting. My advice to students is don’t get derailed by the stress of getting from point A to B; be open to other possibilities that may come your way. There are just so many diverse career opportunities available when you have a degree in science.”

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