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John Mulrow is going to change the world for the better! He is about to complete his Master’s Degree in Civil and Materials Engineering with a focus on Environmental Engineering. With two additional years of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, you would think the 29-year-old would be eager to start working on his Ph.D. Instead, the new CME alumnus is getting ready to report for basic training with the U.S. Army.

“I’m taking a little hiatus from the studies to be certified as a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear response specialist for the Illinois National Guard,” said Mulrow. “I’m taking a break to do that, and then I’ll come back to my studies.”

Before coming to UIC, the Wheaton, Ill. native was a double major in French and African studies at Stanford University. He wanted to study abroad and took a break from school to work in Africa.

“I had the opportunity to work in Zambia in Southern Africa where there is a series of refugee camps,” he said. “I lived in the refugee camp and worked for a United Nations contractor doing computer education in French. It was a blast.”

In Africa, he was living off the grid. Energy came from solar power, he had fetch and sanitize water, traveling was via bike, and his only communication home was the occasional satellite phone call. It was this experience that turned him on to renewable energy, off-grid living, and natural resources. It was this experience that changed his life and lead him to switch his major to Earth Systems when he returned to school.

“I got turned on to local environmental issues. I was concerned about climate change, food, society, and consumerism,” said Mulrow. “When I moved back to Chicago, I looked for projects that were pro-resilience and local self-reliance, and I found Plant Chicago and got involved there.”

According to Mulrow, a big part of self-reliance is a strong technical capability, and that is why he chose to pursue an engineering degree at UIC. While earning his degree he was able to implement new engineering concepts at Plant Chicago, where he is the vice president of the board of directors and served as the interim executive director for nine months. Joining the National Guard is something he always wanted to do. It’s also plays a part in his long-term plans.

“The Army yields a massive amount of resources for protecting people and emergency response,” said Mulrow. “I looked into the position and decided this one would be fun.”

By David Staudacher, UIC

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