From uncertain undergrad to full-ride Ph.D., E.S. alum is ready for next step

After transferring to UW-Green Bay as a sophomore, Adam Von Haden wasn’t sure what he wanted to study.

He’d started out as a Computer Science major, but the first-generation college student quickly realized that wasn’t for him.

So he took a few classes at UW-Green Bay, and before long discovered an academic — and career — pursuit that allowed him to explore a newfound passion for environmental science. Thanks to his own drive and the guidance of faculty members — particularly Associate Prof. Mathew Dornbush — Von Haden earned his undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and his master’s in Environmental Science and Policy. In January, he’ll begin Ph.D. studies at UW-Madison, using a full-ride scholarship to further his passion and his career.

“I started taking classes and really got interested in environmental science,” Von Haden said “… I did take a few classes with Matt and we got to know each other, and that’s kind of how it started, at least in terms of pursuing a research career. I kind of figured out what I wanted to do within environmental science.

That research included an undergraduate project based in Texas, in which von Haden and Dornbush studied plant diversity and reproduction; and an undergrad/graduate study looking at biofuels closer to home. A graduate of Green Bay Preble High School, Von Haden will be the third UW-Green Bay student currently enrolled in the Madison Ph.D. program.

“It’s fun for me because I got to see him as this undergrad, with a ton of potential, getting introduced to this project in Texas,” said Dornbush, chair of the Environmental Science and Policy graduate program. “And then from there you could kind of see the spark catching and it’s like ‘oh, I could do this’ — and the from there I think it just snowballed.”
Even before deciding to pursue his Ph.D. — a decision he made relatively recently — Von Haden was furthering his research interests and trying his hand at teaching. He served as a limited-term employee doing biofuels research with Dornbush after earning his master’s in May 2011, and served as an associate lecturer during fall semester 2012. Von Haden says he’s more likely to do full-time research than to teach, but he hasn’t yet decided exactly where his career will take him.

With just days left until he moves to Madison, Von Haden is quick to credit UW-Green Bay — and especially Dornbush — for opening the door to academic and career success. But those who know Von Haden will just as rapidly say he’s blazed his own trail — and they’re confident he’ll continue to succeed.

“He’s earned every opportunity he’s had here,” Dornbush said. “These (thesis-based graduate programs) give us an opportunity to catch these fantastic students like Adam. … So he’s off to Madison and he’s going to continue down his career path, and some day that will come back. Some day Adam will be at a university somewhere, writing grants — and maybe some of our students will go work with Adam.”