UF Online Advertising Student Advocates After Hometown Chemical Fire

Sean Rowe Student Story

Karry King is currently earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida to learn how to shed light on frac sand mining industries moving into her childhood community in rural Illinois.

“If I had to physically be in a classroom, I couldn’t do it. I get distracted, so being online and able to do the work makes a difference. I can do this on my own time, at my own pace. I can rewind or replay lectures as I need to, so it’s really great.”


An Illinois native, Karry earned her associate degree while studying journalism at Santa Fe College in 2022. She then transferred to the University of Florida via UF Online to pursue her bachelor’s degree in advertising. Her educational path continued via an online route after deciding to earn a flexible degree that could contribute to her goal of becoming a published writer.

Karry first learned of frac sand mining companies purchasing land in LaSalle County, Illinois in 2014. LaSalle County is located about 90 miles southwest of Chicago. “If you saw the place, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s really unique. I was upset that these frac sand mining companies were coming in and buying up the farmland and stripping it to supply the fracking industry,” explained Karry.

Gators are known for sticking together. With the intent to raise awareness of frac sand mines being built in her former community, Karry was convinced to study advertising at UF by a fellow Gator, her son. “He went back to school, and I was frustrated because of the whole frac sand mining deal. It seemed like it was an obtainable goal, so I just kept going. I’m like, let’s just keep going for it,” said Karry when describing her decision to become a Gator via UF Online.

The bachelor’s degree in advertising offered by UF Online is one of just a few fully-online advertising programs in the country. UF’s Department of Advertising consistently ranks as one of the top advertising programs in the nation, and is designed to equip students with the skills to build a successful career in media, public relations, government, education, and environmental advocacy.

“Principles of Advertising was fun, but I have gotten the most out of my Sight, Sound, Motion class. That’s where I learned how to make videos, edit audio and photos, and make a website banner, all of which I have done since the chemical explosion. I want to be able to effectively tell what I see and experience and believe. The ability to be able to do something that I enjoy. Without a degree, I couldn’t make a difference.”


While earning her degrees, Karry started her own blog to notify people outside of the community about the long-term effects that frac mining can have on LaSalle County. Earning her advertising degree from UF was the next step in learning how to effectively share information. “I didn’t know how to use FOIA,” said Karry when referencing the Freedom Of Information Act, a law that requires the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased or uncirculated information and documents controlled by the U.S. government, state, or other public authorities upon request.

Frac sand mining involves clearing designated areas of vegetation and topsoil. The mines are hidden from public view by man-made hills. LaSalle County is home to one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions, Starved Rock State Park. Starved Rock is abundant in Saint Peter sandstone which is known for producing silica granules that are uniform in size. In addition to frac sand mines, another environmental threat has recently emerged.

On January 11, 2023, an explosive fire at the Carus chemical plant in LaSalle County released over 1,000,000 pounds of potassium permanganate into the local community. “They turned a mall into a chemical storage facility, and nobody knew about it. I got the city ordinance from the city council meeting and was able to upload it to the blog. People are now contacting the EPA. At the city council meeting they’ve agreed to test 8 more residences. That’s literally because of what I’ve learned this semester. It’s pretty awesome,” said Karry when describing the direct impact made while pursuing her degree.

The research and investigative skills developed while studying at UF taught Karry to gain access to EPA test results and make them available to the public. “Because of FOIA, we were able to uncover what happened the day of the fire and gain access to the EPA test results. If not for the use of FOIA and exercising our rights as citizens, we would not be this far,” explained Karry.

“What I’ve learned at UF I’m already using every day. I’ve launched the blog, and these are things that over the years I’ve been wanting to do that I didn’t know how. I literally learned something in visual design and then the following week was able to apply it. I know people teach themselves these things, but that’s not where I was at. I needed the accountability and structure that UF provides to be able to learn these things.”


In addition to educational development, Karry’s degrees in journalism and advertising became catalysts for her professional writing journey. “After several years of trying to get a journalist to cover frac mining in my hometown, I finally enrolled in school to cover it myself. It’s my goal to write a book about the situation and events that occurred.”

Karry plans to enroll in a graduate degree program for narrative nonfiction writing after earning her UF bachelor’s degree to share the stories of the LaSalle community members. “This chemical explosion happened and I’m like okay, this book’s going to be really interesting now. I think by the time I’m done with school, I’ll probably have a couple of them to write with the way things are going,” said Karry on her immediate goals.

The University of Florida is proud to have students like Karry who are earning their degrees to minimize the impact of environmental challenges for the greater good. We support our students in their positive missions and are proud to feature Karry’s inspirational story for environmental advocacy this Earth Day. Kudos to you, Karry!


Turn your creative ideas into tangible campaigns with a UF degree in Advertising: Persuasive Messaging. With courses like strategy, branding, and copy & visualization, students gain insight into the creative, technical, and psychological aspects of branding and marketing within advertising. Taught by faculty in the top-ranked College of Journalism and Communications, UF Online’s advertising program makes our graduates viable candidates for a wide variety of careers ranging from business to government agencies. To learn more about UF Online’s advertising program, visit the degree page or attend an upcoming virtual information session.