From English Major to Environmental Steward: UMUC Alumnus Makes Clean Water His Mission

By Gil Klein, University of Maryland University College

Berkeley County, West Virginia, is the fastest growing county in the state as new industry is attracted to the I-81 corridor and Northern Virginia’s exploding population spills into the Mountain State’s eastern panhandle. As a result, an upsurge of houses, roads, parking lots, industrial parks and the like is creating new stormwater pollution problems in a state where water flows downhill quickly.

To solve this problem, Berkeley County hired Terry Goodwin, a University of Maryland University College (UMUC) graduate with an unusual background: He had an English undergraduate major, yet he defied the odds by being accepted into the university’s master’s program in Environmental Management, which caters almost exclusively to applicants with science and technical backgrounds.

Bob Ouellette, the program’s director, said Goodwin stood out among applicants because he did not have a technical background. “The vast majority of our students come in with a degree in science that has to do with the environment: geology, biology, chemistry or hydrology,” he said. “Most of our students are currently working in the environment, usually in a narrow area. They are taking the program to broaden their knowledge to open new career paths.”

But Ouellette wanted to expand who is going into environmental work, so he decided to admit Goodwin, noting that he had excelled in his undergraduate biology courses. “I thought the program would be a challenge for Terry,” he said. “But we have a class called environmental systems that tries to bring all of the students to the same level by teaching them a little bit about geology, biology, chemistry and hydrology so they learn the language of each science as well as the basic knowledge.”

Goodwin says combining his writing and communication skills with the technical education he received in the master’s program has been a winning combination as he becomes West Virginia’s first county-wide stormwater management director. “My English degree,” he said, “helped to provide the necessary business writing and creative writing skills needed to create narratives for grant opportunities and to clearly define objectives and goals in official documents submitted to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.”

While municipalities have been building stormwater pollution control systems for years, what makes Goodwin’s position different is that it encompasses an entire county of more than 300 square miles, most of which drains into the Potomac River. With its rapid economic development, what had been a rural county is quickly urbanizing.

That’s where his UMUC training was essential in teaching him how to develop grassy swales, bioretention areas, rain gardens—and even to provide residences with rain barrels for collecting runoff from roofs that can be used later to water gardens. All these methods filter out impurities so that the streams in the developing eastern part of the county can approach the water quality of streams in the rural western part.

Goodwin must make sure he has a plan that outlines clearly what developers must do to comply with regulations. And that’s where his training in English came back in. “One clear achievement I can attribute to my English degree is the accelerated approval of the Storm Water Management Plan,” he said. “The review process before I entered this job had taken over two years without approval. I entered the job, began writing the plan, submitted and received state approval within three months.”