Adjunct Spotlight: Leslie Gunnett

Adjunct Spotlight: Leslie Gunnett

Adjunct Faculty Spotlight: Leslie Gunnett

Leslie GunnetBy Leslie Gunnett, MS

When I was young, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be an astronaut, a teacher, a travel agent, and eventually, a scientist. I attended Rowan University and received a bachelor’s degree in Biological Science in 2013. As a college student, I had a difficult time deciding what I wanted to do after graduation. I was inspired for the first time when I took a microbiology course and decided to pursue that path next. I applied to Rowan’s Master of Science in Molecular Pathology and Immunology program the following year and completed my thesis in 2016.

I got my first full-time position with a small biotech company where we produced PCR assays for clinical testing, and I absolutely loved my coworkers and friends I made in that position. At that same time, my Rowan adviser reached out to me about teaching opportunities, and I began leading biotechnology labs in the evenings as an adjunct. I never pictured myself as a professor, but I immediately loved guiding students through lab experiments.

When I changed companies in my full-time position, I went to another pharma company and worked in virology. While overseeing a lab and becoming the person in charge of ordering supplies for the lab spaces, I began to really take note of how much waste we were generating on a daily basis. I applied for a Six Sigma program, which teaches you to eliminate all forms of waste in the workplace and came up with so many ideas to help in that area.

When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, I put my adjunct career on hold to focus on my full-time position and began to pay more and more attention to the waste aspect of everything. My husband and I officially began our personal zero-waste journey at the beginning of 2020; as we finished bottles of shampoo, body wash, shaving cream, etc., we began buying things in solid form, packaged in cardboard rather than plastic. We swapped out paper products for reusables, we stopped buying new furniture and clothes and opted for thrifting, and we began opting for the most sustainable option for every purchase and decision we have made since. I watched a documentary on the environmental effects of the meat and dairy industry and went from being a vegetarian to a vegan in one day, convincing my husband to take the plunge with me. Once we bought our house in 2021, we immediately began composting and gardening to grow some of our own food. I felt like I was offsetting my consumption and waste-making at work with how I was living at home, but part of me still wanted to be doing more.

I had a hard time being in a position that involved discarding bottles of reagents, like animal blood, because they had expired but were never opened, and I became very stressed and overwhelmed. After several years and several promotions, I left the pharmaceutical industry for cosmetics. I hoped that working for a vegan and sustainability-driven company would ease my stress, but at that point I was already thinking about ways to make a total career change. I ended up quitting my job for a mental health break and began looking into ways I could turn my passion for living an eco-friendly lifestyle into a career. It took a little time, but I had finally found my calling.

I applied to the Geography, Planning and Sustainability department here at Rowan because I hoped to use my knowledge and experience to help inspire the future generations to think more deeply about taking care of our planet. Teaching GEOG 16100 “Earth, People and Environment course” has allowed me to tell the story of our planet, which is so much fun as my view of our world has changed so much over the years. I find myself learning every day; I went from a much more materialistic girl who loved to shop for new clothes and was surrounded by so much plastic and clutter to an extremely Earth-conscious person who is now mostly surrounded by house plants and home-grown vegetables. My life has changed so much on this journey in so many amazing ways, and if I can inspire just one student to think about the world in a new way, then I have done my job.