Kristen McKinley

Kristen McKinley

What is your previous work experience?
During my undergraduate degree, I worked in several departmental labs as a technician. The responsibilities ranged from executing kit-based DNA extraction of loblolly pine tissue and running gel electrophoresis to collecting groundwater and soil samples from land around a hog waste lagoon. For two summers I interned in the savanna of Brazil and gathered data for small research projects looking at how tree species relate to fire and drought. Since graduation I have worked for an environmental lab performing GC analysis on air emission samples, sometimes travelling to industrial sites for on-site testing.

Why did you choose the Nicholas School?
I chose the Nicholas School for several reasons. The coursework of the Ecotoxicology and Environmental Health concentration appeals greatly to my academic interests of contaminant chemistry and environmental fate of pollutants. Also, Duke and NSOE are uniquely positioned with access to local resources like UNC-CH, NCSU, EPA, NIEHS, and RTI as well as on-campus research centers. I hope to utilize these connections during my time at Duke.

Do you have any areas of interest or special focus you will undertake during your time at the Nicholas School?
My concentration will be Ecotoxicology and Environmental Health. I plan on getting a certificate through the geospatial program. I am interested in working with the Duke Wetland Center, the Center for Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology, or the Superfund Research Center.

What are you looking forward to as a new Nicholas School student?
As a new Nicholas School student, I am most looking forward to engaging with fellow students and faculty. 

What are you doing this summer before you arrive at the Nicholas School?
During the summer I will be continuing my usual workload as a GC analyst while training my coworkers to assume the responsibilities of my position when I leave in the fall. Additionally, I will be studying statistics, calculus, and chemistry to prepare myself for the transition from the workforce to school.

What are your plans for future work of employment?
After graduating, I hope to work as an environmental leader who investigates and addresses soil and water pollution through bioremediation.

Career Interests

Environmental Consulting, Remediation Engineer, Contaminated Land Specialist
Employment Sought:
Permanent Position


Master of Environmental Management, May 2018
Nicholas School of the Environment
Duke University, Durham, N.C.
Concentration: Ecotoxicology and Environmental Health
Nicholas Scholar 2016 - 2018
Bachelor of Science, magna cum laude, December 2010 
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.
Major: Environmental Technology & Management
Pack Promise Scholar 2006 - 2010

Professional Experience

Master’s Project: Geochemical Factors Influencing Occurrence and Distribution of Hexavalent Chromium in NC Groundwater 
Collected and analyzed groundwater samples for geochemical properties and hexavalent chromium concentration to determine the factors influencing the presence of the toxic metal in NC drinking wells.

Research Assistant, Duke University – EOS Division, Durham, NC
Collect and analyze groundwater samples to study the relationship between geochemistry and water quality for at-risk populations around the globe. Research the origin and scope of hexavalent chromium, a toxic metal and emerging contaminant, in groundwater drinking wells of rural populations across North Carolina. August 2016 – Present

Gas Chromatography Analyst, Enthalpy Analytical, Inc, Durham, NC
Performed GC analysis of gas and liquid environmental samples for organic constituents in support of air quality regulation. Oversaw operating, maintaining, troubleshooting, and repairing key analytical instruments and accessories. Conducted on-site analysis at industrial plants for engineering and compliance testing under EPA regulations. Instructed and train lab technicians on proper lab techniques and sample preparation. Managed complex, multi-departmental projects as they move through the lab from sample receipt to laboratory report. Developed analysis methods for atypical projects and optimize analysis methods for routine projects. Identified and addressed systemic work issues, such as implementing a standardized system for chemical inventory management to increase work efficiency and decrease resource waste. September 2011 – August 2017

Lab Technician, Enthalpy Analytical, Inc, Durham, NC
Prepared environmental samples for analysis by following SOPs and national methods, such as sorbent tube desorption and liquid/liquid extraction. Maintained inventory of laboratory supplies such as consumables, solvents, and glassware to assist analysts. May – September 2011

Lab Assistant, NCSU – Forestry Dept., Raleigh, NC
Collected groundwater and soil samples, prepared freeze-dried leaf samples for Nitrogen/Carbon analysis, and maintained health of study plants in the greenhouse to support research on the environmental impacts of hog farm lagoons in NC. August – December 2010

Field Assistant, UNH – Natural Resources Dept., Coatapec, Mexico
Facilitated research on the crown-level microclimate factors in a tropical montane cloud forest by climbing oaks to collect data from remote Campbell Scientific CR1000 dataloggers and to maintain data gathering equipment. June 2010

Research Assistant, NCSU – Plant Biology Dept., Brasilia, Brazil
Investigated effects of microclimate and fuel characteristics on fire feedbacks at savanna-forest boundaries; utilizing micrometeorological stations and collecting subplots of vegetation along transects within the IBGE Ecological Reserve. Organized data into a Microsoft Access database and performed preliminary statistical analyses for inclusion in publication. Collected leaf samples for water potential and moisture content measurements to evaluate the water relations differences of savanna trees relative to congeneric forest trees for survival in seasonal drought in savanna. Engaged in individual and collaborative project coordination. May – August 2007, 2008

Additional Information

Graduate Coursework: Chemical Fate of Organic Compounds, Water Quality Health, Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment, Chemical Transformation of Environmental Contaminants, Advanced Geospatial Analysis, Environmental Aquatic Chemistry, Applied Data Analysis for Environmental Sciences
Contaminant Risk Evaluation Report for Chemical Fate of Organic Compounds
Compiled literature and utilized modelling software (EpiSuite) to predict the environmental fate of 1,4-Dioxane release from industrial facilities in the US and to characterize the risk from drinking water. December 2016
President, Out in STEM Chapter at Duke University, May 2017 – Present
Communications Officer, Out in STEM Chapter at Duke University, August 2016 – May 2017
Project Innovator, Duke Interdisciplinary Social Innovators
As part of a consulting team of 6 students, analyzed responses from a readership survey for the online magazine Facing South. Presented results in a technical report explaining the current reader demographics and suggesting marketing strategies to attract target demographics. January 2017 – May 2017
Hoffmann, W. A., Jaconis, S. Y., McKinley, K. L., Geiger, E. L., Gotsch, S. G., & Franco, A. C. (2012). Fuels or microclimate? Understanding the drivers of fire feedbacks at savanna-forest boundaries. Austral Ecology, 37(6), 634–643. 


environmental compliance
environmental health
project management

Graduation Date

May 2018



Preferred Location


Preferred Sector

Business / Industry
Entrepreneur / Start-up
Federal Government
Non-profit / NGO
Research Institute / Think Tank
State / Local Government