Sisters graduate testing the waters
Last updated 1/11/2023 at Noon
Amy Yoder, 2011 Sisters High School (SHS) graduate, has combined her love for the outdoors with her love for science in working for the USGS (United States Geological Survey) as a hydrologist based in Boise at the Idaho Water Science Center.
Her journey to her position at the USGS began during her time at SHS, and then through college where she developed her passion for water conservation and hydrology.
During her time at SHS, Yoder was heavily involved in the IEE (Interdisciplinary Environmental Expedition) program as both a student participant and as a senior intern.
“IEE was a huge part and really helped shape me into who I wanted to be. It taught me that good organization and preparedness can allow you to have more fun in the outdoors. I spent most of my senior year in outdoor activities without paying for any of them; I was lucky to have had the program,” said Yoder.
While in IEE she worked with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council on planting days on the riparian of the Whychus Creek, which made her aware of hydrology as a concept, and helped develop her sense of place.
“It really helped me learn how to become a steward. It wasn’t a direct influence, but it helped me in wanting to study hydrology, eventually,” said Yoder.
After graduating from SHS in 2011, she attended Montana State University (MSU) for her undergraduate degree, studying geo-hydrology. Geo-hydrology is a degree in geology with an emphasis on hydrology. The geo-hydrology degree requires harder math and physics classes than typical geology.
“I knew I wanted to be outside for my job, and science was one of my better subjects compared to others, and so I wanted to be outside and play into my strengths,” said Yoder.
Yoder received her undergraduate degree from MSU and began working in 2016 with the National Park Service in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. She worked as a summer field tech, doing field work, authoring reports looking at water quality and amphibian monitoring, as well as conducting general hydrology monitoring.
Later in 2016, she did an internship with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council.
“During that time, I realized I wanted to work at a higher level in this field after my experience at the parks and at the watershed council. I then realized I had to go to grad school to get there,” said Yoder.
Yoder looked for schools with programs specific to hydrology when getting her master’s degree. She ended up attending University of California, Davis (UC Davis) and received her master’s degree in hydrology.
“Groundwater was the main focus, especially in California. Being one of the largest exporters of fruit and vegetables, we looked at the problem of groundwater and methods to recharge it,” said Yoder.
She studied ways to take the stress off farmers who have been having problems with water scarcity.
After receiving her master’s, Yoder applied to jobs in hydrology. In July 2019, she started working for the USGS as a hydrologist.
Yoder works on a variety of different projects from water quality studies to groundwater work and more. Her team works on analyzing data and making interpretations of characteristics of ground water, season changes on water quality, and irrigation changes.
The USGS is non-regulatory, which means they don’t enforce laws and rules based on findings, they just work on gathering and finding the data and getting it to various stakeholders.
“The USGS is an unbiased scientific agency that provides the data and findings to the right people,” said Yoder.
Most of her work now is on a computer, analyzing data and writing reports.
“I am not outside as much as I was when I started, but I still do some field work and transitioned into more science stuff and figuring out a lot of what goes into the field work to better understand what people are out there to do in the field,” she said.
She also works on designing studies for people in the field and writing the data from those studies.
Yoder plans to continue her role at the USGS, based in Idaho with her partner, Toby Maxwell. Yoder’s experiences in Sisters and at SHS helped shape not only her professional role now, but also her lifestyle spending time outdoors in nature.