“Opportunity” … it’s a word mentioned more than a few times when Tim Peternell talks about his time at Missouri Southern.

Peternell, who participated in the December commencement ceremony, has been named the 2022 Outstanding Graduate by the Alumni Association’s Board of Directors. He graduated with his bachelor’s in environmental health and safety, and a minor in Biology with a 4.0 GPA.

“There are a lot of great students here at Missouri Southern,” Peternell says of the Outstanding Graduate recognition. “Knowing that all of the hard work over the last few years has paid off and been recognized, it means a lot to me.”

He says he’s always had an interest in science and protecting the environment and was excited to join the Environmental Health and Safety program at MSSU.

He and fellow environmental health major Avery Cozens undertook a research project that confirmed the presence of microplastics in the Spring River Watershed. It was one of the first studies in the Midwest to examine freshwater sources for traces of microplastics – most have focused on ocean and marine environments.

“The opportunity to do this was groundbreaking because it had never been done in this area before,” he says. The students were able to present their findings last year at the Missouri Academy of Science Conference in Columbia, Mo. Their work, he says, is currently being advanced by other student researchers at MSSU.

The certifications available to students in the EHS department was another opportunity he says he happily embraced. He has been recognized as a Certified Environmental Health Specialist by the Missouri Board of Certification for Environmental Health Professionals; and an Associate Safety and Health Manager by the Institute for Safety and Health Management; as well as credentials for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“Tim was an amazing student in all areas as far as academics and scholarship,” said Dr. Teresa Boman, associate professor of biology and environmental health and safety. “As a student worker in our department, he did a lot of work for us, such as going to the Major/Minor Fair to help recruit students. He was an excellent representative for our program and Missouri Southern as a whole.”

This fall, Peternell will begin work on his master’s degree in environmental health at Utah’s Brigham Young University. For those students following in his footsteps, he has two words of advice – “Get involved.”

“What you get out of (the college experience) depends on what you put into it,” he says. “There are a lot of great opportunities here. Put in the work, and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help if you need it, whether it’s your professors or other students.”