Graduate Study
Ph.D. Student Spotlight

Photo of

Jordan Gurneau 

For Ph.D. candidate Jordan Gurneau, engineering is not only a part of his life, but an integral part of the lives of indigenous people. Gurneau has been studying the relationship between wild rice--manoomin, as it is called by the Ojibwe peoples--and its environment to ensure its sustainability for years to come. 


1. Where are you from?  

I was born and raised in Chicago! 

2. Where did you get your undergrad degree, and what was your major? Do you have an MS? 

I attended a few schools, City Colleges of Chicago is where I earned my Associate of Science degree in 2017, and I earned a Bachelor of Science in environmental science from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago 2020! I am also a McNair Scholar! 

3. What attracted you to engineering?

Engineering has always been present in my life, whether it was working on my own cars, a small stint I did operating forklifts to move heavy machinery, or ironworking training and erecting a structure made of steel beams with a team. At Northwestern I watched and participated in a project to construct a canoe made from birchbark, it hit me then that engineering has always been a part of lifeways of indigenous peoples. Our challenges today require weaving of innovative technologies with knowledge gifted from our ancestors in order to protect not only each other but future generations as well. I see engineering as one of many ways we can accomplish those commitments. 

4. What attracted you to pursue a Ph.D. in your specialty area?

As a McNair Scholar there is a need for expanding the perspectives in decision making areas. Increasing the visibility of Indigenous scientists, educators, and engineers is a responsibility I feel I have. Pursuing a Ph.D. would allow me to understand our natural systems in a deeper context while simultaneously creating pathways for the next generation to build upon their momentum. A Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Northwestern would be a great achievement and set me up for a long successful career. 

5. How do you explain your thesis research to a non-scientist?

I am interested in the seasonality of relationships that exist between wild rice or manoomin as it is called by the Ojibwe peoples, and its surrounding ecosystem. I want to know what parameters of water quality and environmental drivers help sustain favorable environments for manoomin. Especially with changes in annual weather patterns due to climate change. Manoomin is an annual aquatic grass that grows in shallow rivers and lakes around the great lakes and is highly vulnerable to climate change. I seek to know the best ways we can ensure its sustenance for all relatives who rely on its presence, including non-human relatives. 

6. What attracted you to NU?

I was very drawn to the work being done and research around green spaces and green infrastructure. Especially those happening in the greater Chicago area. I have seen first-hand through summer internships how research at Northwestern was expanding into working with communities, working with non-profits or working with the land and that was something I wanted to learn more about and be a part of! 

7. What has been the highlight of your time at NU and CEE?

When the indigenous community hosted an artist in residence to build a canoe or jiimaan in the Ojibwe language. We were invited to harvest spruce roots and make lashings, birch bark panels, and willow. The whole process was full of stories and teachings that I was glad to be a part of. CEE was involved because my advisor Aaron Packman has a few flumes in the lab that we were able to use for soaking cedar planks underwater. I felt that it reinforced my decision to join the team here at Northwestern and McCormick. 

8. What has been the most challenging aspect of your graduate school experience?

Getting through the pandemic was difficult. I know I am not alone in losing loved ones during the pandemic, but it was one of the harder life experiences I have gone through. I felt very supported by faculty and my peers during that time, and I am grateful for it. I still wish things had not happened the way they did. But I am still here, and I want to dedicate any achievements I make during my time here to those family members I lost and those people who were aware of my situations and supported me through tough times.  

9. Can you tell us about your experience being mentored or mentoring others?

I have found many levels of mentorship here at Northwestern, whether it is from upper-level graduate students, or even undergraduate students, faculty, community and people who are working with us on the project. I want to do my best to reciprocate that type of generosity in the form of listening to my peers, or mentors. I feel that mentorship is an important part of your success that often goes under the radar.  

10. What are your interests or hobbies outside of your research?

I really enjoy hiking throughout our different forest preserves. I like bike riding on the many miles of trails, and I enjoy a good video game from time to time, Destiny 2 has been a game I enjoyed for a long time. I also have 2 kids who keep me busy when I find a moment of free time!