'Where Are They Now?' featuring SNR alum Kay Kunze

Kay Kunze scuba diving near a Zebra shark. (Courtesy photo)
Kay Kunze scuba diving near a Zebra shark. (Courtesy photo)

For some, scuba diving along the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast may be the mark of one exotic vacation.

For Kay Kunze, it's just part of an average workday.

"The most enjoyable part of my job is scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef in order to assess its condition," Kunze said. "I was recently involved in a survey project with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for crown-of-thorns starfish, where I lived and dived off a vessel in the Coral Sea."

The class of 1998 graduate has spent the last six years Down Under, calling Queensland, Australia home. She works for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service as a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park ranger.

"I don't believe I have picked up an Australian accent, although I do say some words differently," she said. "I also use many Australian words and phrases such as 'Fair Dinkum?' (Are you being honest?) and 'Good on ya!' (Well done!)."

In addition to picking up the local lingo, Kunze spends a lot of time in the water – both for her job and for recreational enjoyment.

"I moved to Australia because of my love of the ocean and scuba diving," she said. "My husband and I own a boat and often go camping on the local Whitsunday Islands and explore the area's dive sites."

While it may seem that Kunze is worlds away from UNL and all things Husker red, the York, Neb. native said that her education is an integral part of her success story.

"My schooling provided the foundation in which all my knowledge stems," she said.

When it comes to professors who had a lasting impact, Kunze identified emeritus professor Ron Case.

"(He was) my most influential professor," she said. "He always made himself available for a chat and to bounce ideas off of. He was supportive and challenged students to push themselves more."

After graduating, Kunze was offered an aquarist position at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, working in the Kingdom of the Seas aquarium.

"While there, I was responsible for several exhibits, including the large shark tunnel exhibit," she said. "I also took an active interest in, researched and published a paper on the husbandry of the Zebra shark."

Following her stint at the zoo, Kunze began working at the University of Nebraska Medical Center as a cytogeneticist, studying and detecting hereditary diseases and abnormalities. During this time, she was sponsored by an Australian pathology company and moved to Brisbane, Queensland.

Upon moving to Australia, she never lost sight of her professional aspirations.

"I wanted to pursue my marine interests and was hired by the Queensland government as an environmental officer," she said. "This led to opportunities working as a Great Barrier Reef protection officer, conservation officer and my current position."

Kunze said that keeping herself in check wasn't always easy and – if she could change anything about her college days – she wouldn't have been so self-critical.

"I would try to be less hard on myself," she said. "Things have a way of working out for the best – eventually. The only thing in life you can be certain of is change. If you want something in life, believe in yourself, be patient and persevere, and you will enjoy the rewards."

— Mekita Rivas, Natural Resources