Graduation Profile: Trading in computer screens for nature scenes

Rachael Boothe
Rachael during her KU soil science lab class

One week into her first desk job, avid hiker and outdoorsman Rachael Boothe knew that she wanted to trade in her computer screen for fresh air and scenic views. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in management information systems, Rachael spent her days coding in a cube. But during a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, she found her true calling when she met two members of the forest service and jokingly asked how they got their jobs. Rachael decided to take the plunge and enroll in the professional science master’s program in environmental assessment offered through the KU Edwards Campus.

In her first semester at KU, Rachael had a moment of clarity during her soil science class when knew she had made the right decision. “When we went outside for one of our labs and ‘played in the dirt’ all afternoon, I knew I was in the right place,” she said.

Working and going to school full time has left Rachael with almost no free time in the last few years. But this May, she’s fielding a few dream job offers and it’s evident that her hard work is already paying off. We caught up with Rachael to ask about her busy schedule and her dream to drink mate tea in Indonesia.

What was your undergraduate major?

My undergraduate major was a lot different. It was in management information systems. I like to call it the business world of IT. So it was all in technology. Right now I work as a project operations manager and I was previously a technical consultant. So they are two very different worlds, going from IT to environmental studies.

Are you working full time?

Yes, I work full time and then I am also going to school full time. I usually try to take three to four classes a semester because I wanted to try to get it done in a really small amount of time. I started the program in January of 2014. I spent two years coding and sitting in front of a computer but I knew pretty much from the first week on the job that I was not going to be able to do this the rest of my life. So I knew I wanted to go back and do environmental studies almost immediately when I got into work.

Why environmental assessment?

I have always been interested in science and biology and for the past 10 years I’ve enjoyed going to national parks. And my friends and family are really outdoorsy and I love camping, backpacking and hiking. I wanted a job that mirrored those interests. And I wanted to be around people that like the same things I do. Here it’s been interesting because everyone in environmental sciences, they hike, they like to be outdoors, they like outdoor activities. It’s neat. I’ve made a lot more friends here than I did in management information systems and that was a four-year degree, so it’s interesting how that works.

What’s your favorite national park?

That’s a hard one. Probably, Rocky Mountain National Park because it was the first one that made me realize that I wanted to do this. I saw two people from the forest service, they were in a creek that my friends and I were walking by and one of my friends asked if they were fishing and they said no, they worked with the national park. And I just yelled out to them jokingly, ‘How do you get that job?’

What are you most proud of?

I guess I’m most proud that I decided to take the plunge to go back to school. It was something that I didn’t think I was going to consider, but it was the right program. I think I could have done it a lot slower and done it class by class. I think I’m most proud that I have been doing full-time school and full-time work. There are some points when you’re juggling too much and things fall and you just kind of deal with it and pick up. But for the most part, it has been pretty successful and although I’m completely drained and I can’t wait to be bored, it’s nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and think it was all worth it.

Tell me something I’d never guess about you.

Usually, I list my hobbies but now they seem kind of typical because they are aligning with my career. I used to say I like to go camping and I longboard and I code. So it used to be one of those things people don’t expect someone who sits in front of a computer to like those things. But I guess now, I’d say that I’m a really big geek. Lately, I’ve become obsessed with solving Rubik’s Cube puzzles. So you’ve seen the three by three squares?  I always keep one in my backpack and I’m working on a six by six now. I watch YouTube videos on how to do it really quickly. And I always do these things around really stressful times. For my finals in management information systems I got super into origami. And I made about 700 paper cranes at one point. That is not an exaggeration (laughs).

Rachael Boothe 2
Rachael hiking in British Columbia

What’s at the top of your bucket list?

Oh. I have a full bucket list. Which one? (laughs) I don’t know if it’s possible, if I’ll have the funds to do it, but I want to visit a different country each year. I’ve been keeping it up so far. But I would like to try and do that.

Where have you been so far?

I’ve been to Canada, Mexico, Thailand and then Ireland. I’m going to try to continue with that but I don’t know how it’s going to go in this next year with getting a different job. But I would love to go to Italy, my family is from there. So that is hopefully the next one. There are so many different countries and beautiful places.

Why did you go to Thailand?

My friend Lindsey had taught English there. She talked about how nice the people are and just how beautiful the place is and it’s really diverse. So I went there with her to experience it and when you’re in Thailand there are lots of different places like Indonesia that you can hop to very quickly.

One of the places I never got to was Indonesia, and I’d like to go since I’ve heard so much about it. And I really want to drink mate, which is super popular there. I want to go to Indonesia and drink mate that might be the top of my bucket list. It’s a grass tea drink and people in Indonesia all carry these specific mate cups and it’s a social event. They’ll all bring their cups and they have special straws because it’s loose leaf. People will go to parks and you’ll sit down and you’ll talk and you’ll have this server that will just pass around the mate cup. And there are certain protocols you have to follow for drinking mate. But I want to do that. I want to try that. I want to hear Indonesian conversation, I won’t be able to understand it but maybe Lindsey will translate it, and I’ll just sit there and enjoy mate.