This is the latest post in a series of alumni portraits. If you would like to tell us about life after graduation, send me a quick note and you’ll be featured next.
In 2009, I emerged from the womb of Trinity ENVS bright eyed and without a clue how I was I going to put ENVS 275 to work (Methods, duh). Three field trips with Christoph and Co. and a semester in New Zealand convinced me that field science was a neat way to understand and view the world. With that in mind, and with the suggestion from fellow bantam, Isabel Gottlieb (’09), I joined a biological anthropology project in Costa Rica as a field technician. While biological anthropology is awfully similar to primatology, the only thing I knew about primatology was a person named Jane Goodall. I was on-board for the adventure and the exposure to a devoted, longitudinal field study. We studied white-faced capuchin monkeys who were as habituated as New York pigeons—important to be able to make behavioral observations and, as a bonus for me, allow me to snap some of my best photos. I lived in very close quarters with six other field technicians and I eventually began to wonder if the monkeys were an elaborate foil for the UCLA researcher to study human behavior. So I made the jump to a different group of monkeys—high schoolers.
For the next three academic years, I taught chemistry and environmental science at the Pomfret School in Pomfret, CT. I felt at home back in the classroom and enjoyed modifying many of the lessons I received from Trinity professors just a couple of years prior. Also, I now had the summer months to jump back into field research mode. One summer I worked in Wyoming on an ungulate migration study collecting plant samples. Another summer I worked in northern California conducting baseline monitoring for a riparian restoration project. I loved every minute of being out in the field and returning to base at the end of the day. I enjoyed being a part of the niche community of scientists, project managers, and community members who invested themselves in these projects and care deeply about the outcome.
But then I got the itch. I wanted to have a project of my own. So I returned to school and enrolled in the Master’s program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES). Here my thesis focused on biogeochemistry in Alaskan estuaries, but I, perhaps to the dismay of my advisor, focused on much more than just my thesis. I pursued course work in regulating energy development, methods of land conservation, remote sensing techniques, and more. I met fascinating and motivated classmates from a host of backgrounds with interests varying from Alaskan subsistence rights to palm oil development in the Philippines to the US energy market. With these new skills, knowledge, and connections, I felt I had a duty to protect and manage the environment I had studied and explored since my time at Trinity. Working in government was a logical transition and I pursued the Presidential Management Fellowship. The PMF is one of several fellowships offered by the federal government to develop those with advanced degrees into government leaders. Fortunately, I was accepted and found a placement working for the Environmental Protection Agency in Region 9’s Enforcement Division.
I now find myself on the 14th floor of a high rise in San Francisco wearing sunglasses, in part because of the low hanging winter sun and in part to remind me of the earlier days (better days?) working outside. The EPA keeps me in the office mostly, but as a case developer and inspector for Section 402 of the Clean Water Act I sometimes get to travel to various parts of EPA’s Region 9 (CA, NV, AZ, HI, and the Pacific Islands). This travel is to inspect those facilities that have (or should have) NPDES permits, which means I visit some of our dirtiest places. I’ve inspected industrial facilities in Hawaii, oil drilling platforms in southern California, shipyards around San Francisco Bay, and municipal wastewater treatment plants and collection systems in various places around the region. It’s my job to ensure these facilities are properly permitted and that they are following their permit—staying within their effluent limits, monitoring and reporting their discharge, employing best management practices, and whatever other stipulations their permits prescribe. As a case developer, I compile the evidence of non-compliance and work with lawyers to develop an enforcement action to compel these entities to follow their permit. It is indeed a slow process, but the end result protects human health and the environment—EPA’s catch phrase.
As a PMF though, my time in this role is limited. Part of the fellowship is that I have to conduct a “rotation” in another EPA division or another federal agency altogether. While the details of this rotation are still not set, there is a good chance you will find me next at NOAA or NASA or perhaps at the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), if I am lucky.