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Ethan Sweet entered Eastern Kentucky University unsure of what path to take. He will leave with the College of Science Dean’s Award, a degree and a dream.

The Corbin native remembered his first Spotlight Day on campus. EKU had appealed to him for its small class sizes and abundant scholarships, but he hadn’t had such ease choosing an area of study. “I knew that I loved science,” he recalled, “and during the Spotlight event, the geosciences staff seemed very interested in me personally.” The caring faculty persuaded him to declare a major in the geosciences.

Sweet never regretted that decision. “After taking several geology courses, I realized the interdisciplinary nature of practically all sciences – and in particular, the relationship between geology, hydrology, and the environment – was suited for my personal interests,” he said. Four years later, he is graduating with a dual degree in geology and geographical information systems, and a certificate in land surveying.

Sweet’s educational journey has been shaped by some key influential people. His love of learning, for example, he inherited from his parents, both teachers. “My parents always stressed the importance of education from a young age,” he said. “Therefore, I have always had an appreciation for it and have tried to inspire the same enthusiasm in others.” He further credited Dr. Melissa Dieckmann, chair of the Department of Geosciences, with “(seeing) potential in me when even I did not.”

Dieckmann guided Sweet to pursue his passions and encouraged him to challenge himself. “She has always been there for myself and many other students on a personal level and has helped fight for the needs of her students and staff ever since I’ve known her.”

During his time at EKU, Sweet has developed himself through various activities. He is a two-year member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, whose members "helped me develop my academic achievement and cultivate my leadership abilities as well,” he said.

Sweet, who'll graduate summa cum laude, has also worked as a tutor at the Bratzke Center for Student Athlete Academic Success, and with EKU Biology and Natural Areas. As a student employee, he mapped constructed and natural wetlands in northeastern Kentucky and created digital 3D models of them. He and Dr. Jonathan Malzone, assistant professor in the geosciences department, gathered the information to help the U.S. Forest Service build better manmade wetlands.

“This has really helped me learn practical aspects of the academic knowledge that I have gained while at EKU, while allowing me to also incorporate multi-disciplinary skills that I will be able to apply to future jobs or graduate school,” he said.

Sweet’s discovery of his passion for geoscience and environmental conservation sparked a dream: to give citizens on a local, regional, national, and global level access to clean water. “Water is one of, if not the most, important resource on the planet,” he said. “Being able to provide clean water to humanity on a global scale is an enormous challenge.” That challenge, though, is one he wants to tackle. Eventually, he hopes to start a business that helps clean contaminated water sources for both residential and natural areas.

The soon-to-be alum has “bittersweet thoughts” about leaving the institution that made him who he is today: academically, professionally, and personally. “As a freshman I was unsure of what my long-term goals for life were,” he said. “While here at EKU, I have not only been able to plan and begin achieving these goals but have also learned what it takes to become a member of a larger community.”

— by Madison Harris, student writer, EKU Communications & Brand Management