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Meet the Grads: Lillian Rhinehart

Lillian Rhinehart
Lillian Rhinehart’s undergraduate career at West Virginia University was truly a time of self-discovery. 

Four years after arriving in Morgantown, the Elkins native is poised to graduate with a better understanding of who she is and where she wants to go in life.

“During my freshman year I took an environmental biology class,” she said. “This course opened my eyes to an effort - safeguarding the environment and how expansive our Earth's processes were - that I had never explored before. After this, I began researching my options here at WVU as I was eager to know more.”

The Honors College student ultimately chose to major in environmental, soil and water sciences with an emphasis in assessment and reclamation.

“I have been able to expand my knowledge in ways that I never thought possible, and the interdisciplinary nature of the degree has prepared me for a wide array of job opportunities,” Rhinehart said. “For a free spirit like me, it is exactly what I was hoping for.”

When reflecting on her time in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, Rhinehart quickly pointed out there is no shortage of opportunities for students.

“There are many professors, advisors and faculty that will work with you on any research endeavors, you just have to reach out to form those professional and personal connections,” she said.

Alongside Louis McDonald, professor of environmental soil chemistry and soil fertility, Rhinehart worked on a National Science Foundation-funded aimed at bridging the high school to undergraduate gap in West Virginia through hands-on laboratory experience using XRF Spectrometer technology. 

“In this role, I committed to improving environmental education for rural and first-generation college students through the creation of digestible environmental educational modules for teachers and students in West Virginia,” she said. “I developed projects on topics such as deciduous forest ecosystems, acid mine drainage and air pollution.”

Rhinehart was honored with WVU’s most prestigious student award, the Order of Augusta. She was also named Outstanding Senior for the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences

She was recently accepted to Columbia University to pursue a Master of Science in Sustainability Science. Upon graduation from Columbia, she plans to apply for the Peace Corps.

What has been your most meaningful experience at WVU? 
My most meaningful experience at WVU was my move in day at Lincoln Hall in the Fall of 2018. I remember it being a hot, humid, sunny day, and while everyone else around them had their parents or family for support, I was moving in by myself. Although I felt lost, scared, and alone as I watched everyone give their emotional goodbyes into this next phase of their lives, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. I knew this because as soon as I entered the building I was greeted with smiles from the RA's and staff, and I quickly found a support system, new friends, and opportunities that made me feel at home in no time!
If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be and why?

If I could trade places with one person for a day it would be Stevie Nicks. I am a huge fan of her and all the amazing work she has produced over the years! 

What problem do you want to solve?

One problem that I am excited to work on in my career are climate fueled concerns, as well as any and all aspects of environmental degradation. As we enter this pivotal time in human history facing the existential threat of climate change, I hope to be an experienced professional that can make a difference, whether that is through nonprofit, policy, or private sector work.
What is the most important thing you learned outside the classroom?

One important life lesson that I have learned outside the classroom is that it is okay to fail. In this stage of life, you are going to fall short, and maybe many times. It is essential to always ground yourself on where you want to go, and to realize that there is not one true path to get you there! 

What is one thing you would have done differently during college?  

There are definitely many things I wish I had done differently, but who knows where those small changes could have led me. I am a firm believer that every opportunity, lesson, and experience shapes us into who we are as people, so I honestly wouldn't change a thing!
What one piece of advice would you share with future students?

The one piece of advice that I would share with prospective students is to focus your efforts on opportunities that you find interesting and that you are passionate about. Often, students seek to be involved in the most endeavors they can, and although they build a good resume, they fail to explore who they are and what inspires and motivates them. There is a wide array of nonprofits, leadership opportunities, service, and research that can be found on and off campus here. There is a niche for everyone, you just have to take time to explore them!