Land & Environment

Second Nature: Quinney College Student Jenna Mills on Finding Intersection of Natural Science, Art

By Anais Barrientos |

You can typically find Jenna Mills scribbling away in a notebook, filling nearly every inch of page with schematics, depiction of stream flow, geological cross section, and doodles of critters and scenery. Understanding of the earth’s processes pushes her to portray it artistically, she says, and her notebooks are brimming with life.

Mills navigates the world at a unique intersection of creativity and science, a life strategy that lets her push traditional boundaries in interesting ways. Now set to graduate from the Department of Watershed Sciences in the Quinney College of Natural Resources, she began her time at USU less than sure about how such disparate interests might coalesce into a college education.

A family trip to Glen Canyon Dam shifted her academic trajectory and introduced her to watershed sciences. She had always been interested in the way water is managed and fascinated by the ways humans shape and reinvent the natural environment — so engineering seemed like a possible academic path. But standing on top of Glen Canyon Dam that day, acknowledging the incredible feat of engineering, Mills came to realize that power over rivers also requires a willingness to bear the responsibility that comes with it.

Water management is inextricably linked to what we do as humans, she said, and requires us to be good stewards. We control what happens downstream, she realized.

When Mills found a program in the Quinney College, everything fell into place. She found a community of students and researchers passionate about pursuing science and generating creative solutions. Being surrounded by like-minded and supportive people has fueled her artwork, passions and determination, she said.

Mills said she has been encouraged and inspired to discover ways to mix her scientific interests and creative pursuits during college. Working in the Quinney Library, she had the opportunity to design displays and build a creative portfolio. She designed coloring pages for events like Logger’s Ball and sold artwork at numerous events — such as the fish-themed earrings that can often be spotted around the natural resources building.

In academic pursuits, Mills found inspiration in the geology and the waters of the West, landing her in the field of geomorphology.

“The rocks all have a story and they’re just waiting to tell it,” she said.

During her time as an undergraduate she said she felt supported and uplifted by those around her. The connections she made with professors, staff, and peers have opened doors. From grabbing a cup of coffee with a graduate student studying ice cores to finding people to chat with at national conferences, these connections have been integral to next steps in her career.

Mills said that she has also found an endless supply of laughter among her peers, in the field, and even during lab work. Something about spending most of your time outdoors and touching dirt with people superbly interested in narrow niches of science is a powerful thing, she said.

“It’s incredibly cool to be in a space where we are faced with the real time interactions that we study and to have people around that have knowledge about the situation,” she said.

Mills found an incredibly strong sense of community in the college, and is thankful to have been offered resources and space to discover her passions. After graduating with a major in management and restoration of aquatic ecosystems and a minor in geology, Mills plans to pursue a graduate degree, likely focused on glacier research.


Anais Barrientos
Communication Specialist
S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources


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