Women's History Month- Annette Sunda
Annette Sunda grew up on the beaches and mountains of southern California, she comes from a long line of outdoors people and was immersed in nature at a young age. Family road trips were to far-flung mountain destinations and always included a stop or more for rock collecting. Her third-grade science fair project was a poster board explaining the difference between obsidian and granite (rapid cooling above ground & slow cooling below ground), but it took turning thirty for her to decide she wanted to be a geologist.
Annette was in no way a typical college student. She started taking courses at the local community college while still in high school, but as they say, life happens. Shortly after high school, Annette moved to rural Washington state with her parents. She went to community college there for a year but decided that maybe college was not for her, and began working. Annette worked a series of dead-end low-wage jobs and eventually found her way back to southern California. After years of working at a medical billing office and being prodded by her sister to return to school, she decided to enroll at the local community college. Attending classes was not easy, especially because the core math and science courses were only offered during the day when Annette was busy working.
After years of taking one course at a time in the evenings, and just before her 30th birthday, Annette completed her Associates of Arts in Math and Science. With that accomplishment in hand, Annette felt motivated to pursue her Bachelor of Science. She had a conversation with the office manager about adjusting her work schedule to allow Annette to attend calculus, physics, and chemistry courses. Her manager’s response was “It’s time for you to decide between work and school”. A week later, Annette left her job of almost 10 years to follow her dream of being a geologist. Life was not easy after that, but her dream kept her going. She had to give up her apartment and beg her family for assistance. They criticized her and some said, “you should quit school and go back to work, you had a good life before”. Annette refused and found herself sleeping on the couch of a classmate who believed in her.
One year after leaving her office job, Annette had completed calculus and chemistry and was on her way to university. She was accepted at Northern Arizona University in the Spring of 2015, and so she loaded up her car and drove to Arizona. She was not without help from many kind people, housing was secured through childhood friends, and her parents mailed care packages of dried vegetables from their garden. Annette was driven by her dream of being a geologist, but also by the memory of all that she had given up to go to school. She found mentors on campus that informed her of career fairs and opportunities, they helped her draft her resume and application documents. By the end of her first semester, Annette was a student contractor at the U.S. Geologic Survey Astrogeology Science Center (Astro) and was awarded a NASA Space Grant for the following school year. Student contracts at the USGS are good for up to two years, and that is exactly how long it took Annette to complete her BS in geology.
After completing her goals so quickly, and not knowing what else to do, she enrolled in a master’s program for computer science and returned to work at Astro as a Pathways Intern. As an intern, Annette was able to use and build both her geology and computer science skill sets. Upon completion of her Master of Science, Annette decided she wanted to work with “her boots on the ground”, and although she was sad to leave Mars behind, she found a position at GEM that allowed her to gain the field and tactile experiences she was looking for.
Annette now works for GEM Environmental as an AML Monitoring Technician, and she could not be happier. Her main responsibilities include hiking through Abandoned Mine Lands, locating remediated mine features, and recording their current condition. She uses all aspects of her education in her daily activities. Her training as a geologist gave her the skills she needs to maneuver through the landscape while her computer science skills enable her to interact with the data and database managers. Annette has found her happy home with GEM Environmental and hopes to work with them for many years, her current goal is to help them grow and expand their operations in New Mexico.