September 2022 Edition
Emily Zvolanek, Senior GIS Analyst
It’s tough to identify career mentors when your career has only existed a short time. For Emily Zvolanek, a senior geographic information systems (GIS) analyst in the Environmental Sciences division, her introduction to GIS happened because one of her professors at Monmouth College was intrigued by the relatively new discipline (it began in the 1960s) and asked a small group of students (including Zvolanek) to figure it out through independent study.
“I found it interesting and challenging and I wanted to know more about it,” said Zvolanek, who recalls with a laugh that some assignments entailed walking around the school football field trying to locate GIS points.
Still, there was no degree program in GIS at Monmouth so, after earning a degree in environmental studies, she enrolled in the few classes on the subject offered at her local community college. No degree or certificate program was offered there either, but the professor teaching the class happened to work at Argonne. Following success in that class and an internship elsewhere, Argonne offered her a job in 2012.
“My path into GIS and to Argonne did not follow a straight line,” she quipped.
Zvolanek has since gained significant technical experience and she credits others at Argonne with helping her in this regard. She feels inspired to be that person for other young people trying to find their way into science-related fields or, specifically, GIS.
“I am that person naturally who wants to pay it forward,” she said. “I know it would have helped me grow more and faster in my career if I had had a champion early on to help me understand the significance of pursuing proposals, navigating situations, or getting involved more in project management.”
Zvolanek participates regularly in Argonne programs promoting diversity, equity and inclusion and she is grateful for WIST. She actively engages in the educational programs and activities that Argonne hosts in order to introduce girls to STEM careers. Whether that career is in GIS or in support of another field of science, Zvolanek recognizes the value she can bring to young women in search of guidance.
“By the time they get to where I am now, I want there to have been more support along the way,” she said.
In her spare time, Zvolanek immerses herself in another community of friends from Argonne: an Irish folk music group. They lack an official group name, but they practice together regularly and have fun learning the traditional songs. Zvolanek plays six-string guitar. Others play mandolin, banjo, guitar, flute, whistle, harmonica, and even the bodhrain, which is a traditional drum that resembles a tambourine without bells.
“The music isn’t overly complicated and it’s fun and low pressure,” said Zvolanek.
Her advice to young professional women interested in science is “pursue what you are interested in and are passionate about. If you’re the only one who looks like you in any sort of situation, whether it’s gender or race, that can feel isolating. My best advice is push through it because it won’t be that way forever. It will all work out in the end.”