Alumni in the Field is a series of profiles aimed at highlighting the careers and accomplishments of Amherst alumni in environmental and sustainability-related fields. New profiles will be added every week. If you know someone who should be featured, please reach out to Eleah Wilkerson at ewilkerson16@amherst.edu!


Weston Dripps profile

Weston Dripps

What company/organization do you work for? How does its mission relate to environmental work? 

I work at Furman University as the Executive Director of the Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities and as a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences. The mission of the Institute is to analyze and address campus and community sustainability challenges from a data-driven, solutions-oriented, systems approach that involves interdisciplinary collaboration among campus and community stakeholders. This approach provides unprecedented learning opportunities for all involved and contributes to the greater good.

How did you end up in your current job? Did you always know you wanted to work in this field? 

I have been a professor of earth and environmental sciences for 17 years, teaching undergraduate introductory and upper level courses in earth science, environmental science, sustainability science, and water resources. Although trained as a more traditional geologist, I have always had an interest in sustainability. I helped develop a new major in sustainability science here at Furman about 9 years ago and helped write the university’s sustainability strategic plan. Based on my interest and past experience I was asked by the university to lead the university’s sustainability center three years ago.

What do your job responsibilities entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

I love my job. I oversee a staff of five who collectively run the university’s sustainability center, an animating academic hub for interdisciplinary sustainability teaching, campus and community research and engagement, and high impact student learning. We regularly bring together faculty, staff, students, and community members from across disciplines and sectors to work on campus and community sustainability issues from alternative transportation to carbon neutrality to affordable housing and gentrification. We run a number of different faculty, staff, and student development programs and work with faculty and staff to infuse sustainability across the university curriculum and operations. 

What part of your job is the most challenging? What aspect is most rewarding?

In general higher education tends to be risk and change averse, and so sometimes bringing about the changes needed for improving sustainability efforts can be drawn out and/or met with resistance. I am an influencer without authority and so patient persistence working with a large number of stakeholders is often needed to bring about change. I try not to let the process bog me down and get in the way of progress. I am extremely passionate about what I do and get really excited when progress is made, be it a baby step or a giant leap in our sustainability efforts. I particularly like working to empower students to become change agents on campus and beyond.

How did your Amherst education prepare you for a job in the environmental field? Were you involved with any environmental work (or with the OES) at all during your time at Amherst? 

I was a Geology major at Amherst and spent multiple summers doing field work and research which prepared me really well for graduate school, work with the United States Geological Survey, and years as an exploration geologist. As a student at Amherst I loved geology and went on to take every single geology course Amherst offered and even turned to the five colleges for more. I knew early on I wanted to major in Geology and went on to be a teaching assistant for multiple courses which really seeded my interest in and love of teaching which has become the foundation of my career to date.

What is one piece of advice you would give to current students who want to pursue a career in climate action/sustainability?

Sustainability is a rapidly emerging and dynamic field. Liberal arts college students from places like Amherst who bring a broad and diverse set of coursework and disciplinary perspectives are primed to become sustainability thinkers and leaders. Sustainability challenges and solutions require a more holistic systems approach.

How do you predict the environmental field will change in the coming years? What area(s) do you think will have a lot of jobs or opportunity for growth in the near future?

Sustainability is and will remain one of the most rapidly growing fields academically as well as industrially. I helped start a new sustainability science major here at Furman that in its eight years has been one of the fastest growing majors in the university’s long history. Undergraduate and graduate programs in sustainability science are popping up all over higher education. Sustainability is not a fad, it is here to stay and lies at the core of addressing many of the world’s grand challenges. Industries, government agencies, non-profits, private sector firms are all adding sustainability positions to their staff as they realize its importance. This trend will continue to grow moving forward. The future for job opportunities in sustainability is bright!


Lindy Labriola Lindy Labriola profile

What company/organization do you work for? How does its mission relate to environmental work? 

For the past three years, I worked for the nonprofit, InOurHands, a 501(c)(3) charity that provides locally-owned renewable energy systems for disenfranchised communities both nationally and internationally. This charity aims to improve the quality of life for historically marginalized and/or struggling groups through equitable access to energy, skill acquisition, and economic growth in the renewable energy sector.

Now, I am in the process of co-founding a new non-profit, the Museum Renewable Energy Program (MREP), which aims to achieve 100% clean energy consumption in the cultural heritage sector by 2030 while supporting cultural heritage initiatives, contributing to education, and engendering research opportunities in the environmental and sustainability sectors. We're incorporating in the Netherlands with the Executive Director of a Dutch nonprofit that encourages sustainability in the cultural heritage sector, Ki Culture. 

How did you end up in your current job? Did you always know you wanted to work in this field? 

InOurHands (IOH) was co-founded by two fellow alumni, Aaron Resnick ‘16 and Jason Mackie ‘17, who brought me on as a founding partner during my senior year at Amherst.

At the time, I was studying climatology as a Geology major and Native American & Indigenous Studies as an English major, while also working with Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research and running Amherst’s GAIA environmental magazine. So, I knew I wanted to go into a field that addressed environmental issues holistically with attention to climate’s social implications for vulnerable communities in addition to its physical impacts.

When Aaron told me that he was working on a project aimed not only at addressing climate change but also at mitigating and even reversing the environmental and economic degradation affecting struggling communities, I was more than excited to jump in. Now, starting MREP, I've been able to extend that impact to the cultural heritage sector, which uses nearly as much energy as some hospitals and has one of the largest carbon footprints of any sector out there. 

What do your job responsibilities entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

MREP is in its early stages of development and we're in the process of securing forward-looking funds for the perpetuation of the program. Most of my day-to-day consists of reaching out to organizations and foundations who might want to build grantor/grantee relationships, installation partnerships, or general support relationships for the program so that we can progress our pilot projects. We've had interest from over 20 NGOs, 5 universities, and 14 museums on all largely-inhabited continents—so it's a lot of time zones to keep straight!
 
As MREP's director, I'm also responsible for facilitating communication between our Executive Director, our Director of Grants and Education, and our Director of Installation and Training. Since MREP essentially brings all the moving parts together—i.e. cultural heritage institutions, installation companies, installation training programs, permitters, utility companies, educational programmers, maintenance crews, etc.—there is enough ricocheting of information to keep anyone busy...don't forget the time zones!

What part of your job is the most challenging? What aspect is most rewarding?

With nonprofits, I’ve found that one of the biggest hurdles is building momentum, a reputation, and some legitimacy. The year after founding IOH, I left for a fellowship in Arctic Norway and holding team meetings in the middle of the Norwegian night was not exactly conducive to progress! But, that same year, IOH received its 501(c)(3) status, which was a major step forward for us. It lent clout to our mission and made us eligible for much more philanthropic funding than we could have secured without it.

And even with these struggles, the work is more than rewarding! Most recently, IOH completed a project with the Oglala Lakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where we partnered with the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center and the nonprofit, Trees, Water & People, to install 25kW of solar energy on the KILI radio station. It’s motivating and inspiring to see Indigenous communities reinforce their sovereignty through renewable energy, and IOH looks forward to providing more communities like Pine Ridge with opportunities for job training (each partner community receives installation and maintenance training so that their system will be consistently operational), economic support, and revenue that can be reinvested in the community on their own terms.  

For the MREP, it was initially challenging to figure out how we were going to set up a model that benefitted both cultural heritage institutions and Indigenous/marginalized communities, but that goal was important to me and to the MREP team. Using IOH as a springboard, we've designed the Museum Renewable Energy Program to allow for scalable growth, utilizing a circular economic model that provides a product (a renewable energy system) as a service (dependable, maintained power) for an enormously pollutive sector while simultaneously using revenue from institutions' installations to fund additional renewable energy systems in local communities. I'm particularly proud of how we've made MREP compatible with climatically vulnerable communities that are especially risk-averse.

How did your Amherst education prepare you for a job in the environmental field? Were you involved with any environmental work (or with the OES) at all during your time at Amherst? 

I focused on climatology towards the latter half of my Geology degree at Amherst because I knew I wanted to have a foundational understanding of what was happening to our planet. I also wrote my Senior thesis on Native American creation narratives analyzing, in part, the use of traditional ecological knowledge in protecting and defending natural resources.

These two fields prepared me for my subsequent work studying Indigenous and local climate issues in Norway and for working in culturally appropriate ways with Native American communities like the Oglala Lakota. I couldn’t have gained these perspectives, skillsets, and sensitivities without the support and guidance of Geology Professors: Dave Jones, Anna Martini, Peter Crowley, Kinuyo Kanamaru, Martín Medina-Elizalde, Jack Cheney, and Tekla Harms; and American Studies/English Professors: Lisa Brooks, Kiara Vigil, Karen Sanchez-Eppler, Pete Westover (Hampshire College), and Barry O’Connell.

In addition to founding Amherst’s first environmental magazine, GAIA, I also started the first iteration of Amherst’s carbon pricing campaign (sorry not sorry for bugging you, Laura Draucker!). While I'm not sure how much headway I had made by the time I graduated, I am glad to see that Amherst has now committed to a carbon neutrality goal.

What is one piece of advice you would give to current students who want to pursue a career in climate action/sustainability? 

About six years ago, I heard someone describe a career in sustainability as “not in vogue.” I had just finished my first job in the climate action sector—an internship with the climate change documentary series, Years of Living Dangerously—and I was still ruminating on my Amherst class’ freshman book, Fieldnotes from a Catastrophe, by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Perhaps not everyone thought environmental and climate work was “in vogue” at the time (i.e. when people thought they could afford to be skeptical), but it definitely wasn’t in vogue to lose a house to Hurricane Sandy, run out of water in Turkey, or slowly sink into the sea in Bangladesh.

In fact, it never mattered what was in vogue and it certainly doesn’t matter now. Climate change is the most critical issue facing our planet and it exacerbates almost all other societal problems. Not only should you take action if you have a desire to, you have a responsibility to do what you can as an individual (I almost made it this whole interview without mentioning that I’m vegan).

How do you predict the environmental field will change in the coming years? What area(s) do you think will have a lot of jobs or opportunities for growth in the near future?

It would be silly to say that I know how the environmental field will change because none of us really know how the environment will change, even with our worst-case scenario models. The climate is shifting more rapidly than we could have predicted even five years ago and new challenges arise every day (that is not a sea-level pun). I do think that technology will play a large role in mitigating the impact of climate change—InOurHands has been developing a new type of disaster-resistant housing for areas like Pine Ridge that get pummeled by brutal winters, high winds, and extreme floods—but it should not be used an excuse for failing to change our human behavior.

I’m not sure that technology can completely reverse climate change (it certainly can't bring back the homes, lives, and habitats already destroyed), but it will certainly present opportunities in the environmental field for a talented wave of young people to expand their technological skillsets and shape the world in innovative ways. Aside from technology, I’m positive that modes of understanding our Earth beyond the objective and replicable will continue to come to the forefront of how we relate to our planet. And I am adamant that a collaborative effort between these ways of knowing is essential to the success of any holistic and sustainable adaptation strategy.

Also—and I may be biased—I hope organizations like InOurHands and the Museum Renewable Energy Program keep developing. People will (and already do) need the help.

Kellyn L-C profile

Kellyn LaCour-Conant

What company/organization do you work for? How does its mission relate to environmental work?

I work for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) of Louisiana. Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, CPRA was created as the single state entity tasked with setting clear priorities for state-wide coastal protection. We develop and enforce a Coastal Master Plan, which includes wetland restoration, levee improvements, homeowner programs, and other efforts designed to limit hurricane damage, flood risk, and land loss. We additionally sponsor community grant programs, wetland research, and graduate fellowships, and also represent the State of Louisiana on the Coastal Wetlands, Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) Task Force. Everything we do is focused on restoration, resilience, and adaptation.

How did you end up in your current job? Did you always know you wanted to work in this field? 

I applied for my current position while completing my Masters in Marine and Environmental Biology at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA. I was always a nature-loving person and I volunteered with the Student Conservation Association throughout high school, but I never imagined myself being a scientist till I started college. I was initially most interested in animal behavior and wildlife biology, then started to become more interested in ecosystem structure and function. When I started learning about restoration ecology, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I grew up knowing certain industries and practices harm the environment, and in turn human health; I wanted to fix that damage.

What do your job responsibilities entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

My official job title is a Coastal Resources Scientist in the Planning and Feasibility division. In short- I evaluate potential coastal projects to predict what sort of benefits (acres of wetland restored, flood risks reduced, critical species protected, etc.) they might deliver, compared to a future without that project. That involves some fieldwork, like going out to potential project sites to survey for aquatic vegetation, measure water depths, take water quality metrics, etc. It's also a lot of data analysis, map making, modeling, and writing. I work closely with the CWPPRA program, I help manage our Partnership Fund that sponsors community resilience grants, I conduct Wetland Value Assessments, I provide environmental justice consultation, and I do community outreach with the Master Plan team.

What part of your job is the most challenging? What aspect is most rewarding?

The most challenging part of my job is knowing that all of our best efforts will not immediately stop the seas from rising, the land from eroding, and destructive industries from operating. The Master Plan is a one of a kind, ecosystem-scale restoration plan that mitigates wetland loss and essentially buys us time to adapt, but it will not save us outright. The work we do is important, but it's a piece in a very large puzzle that will require cross-discipline collaboration and a wide-scale cultural shift to really see transformative climate adaptation. What's most rewarding about my work though is sharing my love of science and my knowledge of wetland ecology with the community, and working with them to develop equitable climate adaptation solutions.

How did your Amherst education prepare you for a job in the environmental field? Were you involved with any environmental work (or with the OES) at all during your time at Amherst? 

Amherst generally gave me a strong foundation in critical thinking, research, and writing. I took courses like Organismal Biology, Tropical Biology, Ecology, and Animal Behavior at Amherst, as well as Forestry at UMass and Stream Ecology at Hampshire. I also TA'd for biology and animal behavior labs, worked as a botany research assistant, and interned with different conservation agencies over the summer. 

What is one piece of advice you would give to current students who want to pursue a career in climate action/sustainability? 

My advice to students interested in climate action is to prioritize and be respectful of the communities you're working in/with. It's great if you bring educational and professional expertise to the table, but don't think that your knowledge is superior to someone else's or that you're entitled to a leadership role just because you have a degree. And don't discredit the power in working in your own home community. I see a lot of "activist tourists" who travel to large protest events in the name of solidarity, but they're sometimes disrespectful to local residents and customs, and offer nothing in terms of long-term support. Don't use the enviro-social crises of other people for clout or adventurism when you could be doing work in your own community.

How do you predict the environmental field will change in the coming years? What area(s) do you think will have a lot of jobs or opportunities for growth in the near future?

The environmental field is becoming increasingly high tech, and skills like GIS, modeling, and remote sensing will likely be in higher demand. There will also be a surge in water management jobs, as we deal with sea level rise, salt water intrusion, aquifer depletion, etc. Engineers interested in working with the environmental sector are also great.


  Alena Marovitz profile Alena Marovitz

What company/organization do you work for? How does its mission relate to environmental work?

My company, Divert, works with retailers and provides them with technology to help them reduce waste.  In particular, we work with many food retailers and give them tools to track, reduce, and recycle food waste.  In the U.S., up to 40% of food produced is not consumed, and as a result this food ends up rotting in landfills.  Empowering retailers with the tools to more effectively handle product and reduce waste is important both environmentally and economically.  

How did you end up in your current job? Did you always know you wanted to work in this field? 

To be honest, I had no idea that this field existed prior to arriving at Divert. I always loved baking and being surrounded by food (“Barefoot Contessa” was my binge show growing up), but it wasn’t until sophomore year at Amherst when I discovered my passion for reducing food waste.  Professor Stewart in our Global Environmental Politics course urged us to submit op-eds about environmental topics that we cared about to local newspapers. Witnessing countless mountains of food dumped into the compost bins at Val meal after meal provided not only the perfect fodder for this essay but also whet my appetite for the food waste world as well.  After digging into this issue more during my summer internships and realizing that it allowed me to utilize skills I gained from both of my majors (economics and environmental studies), I was hooked.

What do your job responsibilities entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

Working at a start-up like mine means that my job responsibilities fluctuate depending on our needs at the moment.  One day I could be conducting a waste audit on top of a landfill, while another I could be writing a business proposal for a new pilot.  The majority of my time though is spent strategizing with our product team to flesh out problems that our customers are experiencing and discussing how we can build features that solve these problems. While it can be overwhelming sometimes to have many different responsibilities, I find it riveting to be involved in so many facets of my company and our strategic planning.

What part of your job is the most challenging? What aspect is most rewarding?

Divert has been an awesome experience for me thus far.  We’re a small company (~20 people at our HQ), so I have been afforded a ton of responsibility for someone straight out of college.  

One of the most exciting but also challenging aspects of my job is that there’s no roadmap for my position.  For example, we signed a contract with a major retailer to donate and recycle unsold food from all of its stores in California.  However, we had never donated food prior to this. Since I had previously expressed an interest to my CEO in food donation, he pegged me to build the program from the ground up, including learning the ins and outs of the food donation scene and finding food bank partners in California.  Today, we’re donating roughly 30 tons of food per week, equivalent to 50,000 meals per week, to nearby food banks.  To see our food bank partners tear up when they talk about our donations and how grateful they are to receive this high quality product that previously was being thrown away is just one example of what drives me to continue plowing into uncharted territory.  

How did your Amherst education prepare you for a job in the environmental field? Were you involved with any environmental work (or with the OES) at all during your time at Amherst? 

One of my favorite parts about Amherst was that I met so many incredible individuals who had such diverse life experiences.  This not only lead to vivid discussions in class and while waiting in the ever-present Herrell’s line – it also taught me how to work with a wide array of people.  In my current role, I collaborate with engineers, developers, plant technicians, and data scientists on a daily basis. Amherst helped me learn how to absorb each of my teammates valuable insights and guide us towards our common goal.  

At Amherst, I was a student representative on the Climate Action Plan Task Force.  I’m very proud that the Board of Trustees officially adopted the Climate Action Plan in January 2019!  Laura Draucker was an immense resource during my thesis process, in which I analyzed student energy consumption in the Greenway dorms.  I also lead the Food Waste Initiative and was a member of the Green Athletics club.

What is one piece of advice you would give to current students who want to pursue a career in climate action/sustainability? 

Talk to as many folks in the environmental field as possible.  The Amherst alumni network was (and still is) one of my most valuable resources.  When I was narrowing down jobs, I chatted with dozens of alums who were thrilled to share their career paths.  Working in this industry is extremely rewarding, but you need to be scrappy. Recruiting budgets are slim at many companies like mine, so the onus is on you most of the time to take the initiative to find workplaces that will be a good fit.   

How do you predict the environmental field will change in the coming years? What area(s) do you think will have a lot of jobs or opportunities for growth in the near future?

Already in my lifetime, we’ve experienced a shift in the way that people think about the environment’s role in their lives. Spanning the spectrum from the Impossible Burger to Rothy’s, companies are capitalizing on consumers’ interest in eco-conscious products.  I think companies are going to more heavily scrutinize their triple bottom line in the future, which would surely broaden the job opportunities for those interested in the environmental field. 


  John Kramer profile John Kramer

What company/organization do you work for? How does its mission relate to environmental work?

I work for Condor Earth, a medium-sized Environmental consulting firm in the Sierra foothills of California. Condor Earth is a diversified, multidisciplinary organization providing a variety of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Engineering, Chemical Risk Management, GIS, Construction Management, and Construction Materials Testing, and Special Inspection Services to private and public sector clients.  At our core, we believe that innovation, creativity, and integrity are the keys to success. Condor actually had the word sustainable in our mission statement about 8 years ago but changed it when one of the County Supervisors complained that sustainability was a code word for socialistic environmentalists. You and your OES compadres have got to appreciate pragmatic adaptations to the urban/rural rift in America.  If you want to live in beautiful ranch land, you have to accommodate local biases. We removed 'sustainable' from its former position in front of 'infra-structure' in our current mission statement below.   

“Our mission is to provide high-quality, professional services for value-enhanced resource management and infrastructure development.”

In these times sustainable is much more fashionable, and it may get back in, as we find our mission statement is stodgy. Would you agree? I think it was written by an economics major.

The environmental work I do is related to regulations to protect groundwater quality and quantity in California.  For example I advise a Groundwater Sustainability Agency on the new basin plan developed by other similar agencies in this watershed. Most of my work is related to compliance with water quality permits issued to dischargers in the State. Agribusiness and municipal clients have to discharge treated wastewater according to specific permits. I negotiate, and provide reporting compliance for those permits. Oh, yes and mining too. I am a proud graduate of the Amherst Geology Department, and can talk the mining game as well.  Mining by the way is not sustainable. It is extractive and we use up those resources. My job is to help the mines close in a polite manner, without a legacy of acid drainage and scarred landscapes.

How did you end up in your current job? Did you always know you wanted to work in this field? 

I backed into this work because I was a rock climber and Prof. Brophy gave me an A- in physical geology. I went to grad school because I got admitted to University with a T.A. It was the path of least resistance and showed progress, (my sister already had her PhD). My MS thesis was on igneous rocks not groundwater, which I am doing now.  My career was not about finding and pursuing a passion, it was about adapting to opportunity and seeking experience that set strong memories. I first came to this area where my job is because I had a more exciting avocation than geology work, exploring wilderness whitewater rivers. In my 30's with a wife and three kids under 5 I went back to grad school and switched focus from hard rock to societal ills, namely groundwater contamination, because that's where the bread was to be earned. A great decision in retrospect. The Liberal Arts Amherst training was a valuable asset throughout, not just the science part. Most of my work now is legalese-y.  Researching regulations and managing complex sampling and reporting requirements. Writing clearly and managing people and clients. It's very engaging actually, but a long cry from Dr. Brophy's pictures of synclines.

What do your job responsibilities entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

I work at a computer, researching and writing, charting data, and inspiring younger professionals to enjoy the work. Work gives one purpose. Work is play.

What part of your job is the most challenging? What aspect is most rewarding?

I recently participated in a Dinner with a Scientist event for 5th through 8th graders. They had a list of questions like this one. The challenges and the rewards are to be found within; you can't learn it from my words. Overcome yourselves. Have the patience to look within.

How did your Amherst education prepare you for a job in the environmental field? Were you involved with any environmental work (or with the OES) at all during your time at Amherst? 

Amherst is Liberal Arts - well-rounded exposure to all aspects of thinking and creating. The classmates and teachers are top quality and smart. Read Desiderata, and take it to heart. When you leave you will have to "speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story." The OES was not even a twinkle in anyone's eye when I graduated in 1972. You've got plenty of road ahead.  Don't worry too much about detours unless they become addictions; then get help.

What is one piece of advice you would give to current students who want to pursue a career in climate action/sustainability? 

Climate action is where it is at!  Don't be too invested in a vision of the future world, or the myth of pristine nature - there is no such thing. Man has been altering the Earth Systems biosphere for over 8,000 years. I recommend you read Anthropocene - A Very Short Introduction by Erle C Ellis and join the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

How do you predict the environmental field will change in the coming years? What area(s) do you think will have a lot of jobs or opportunities for growth in the near future?

Energy innovations, materials science, forestry, architecture, transportation, communication, microbiology, toxicology, sociology, politics, war -  they will all change dramatically. Make a four year plan, then a two year plan, then a 2 month plan. Don't be too invested in past decisions, make thoughtful decisions on the details, go with your guts on the big issues, like love. Confront your fears and stand-up for yourself.  Ask for what you want. Abide by your agreements. Speak the truth.


Phil Cameron prfile

Phil Cameron profile 2

 Phil Cameron

What company/organization do you work for? How does its mission relate to environmental work? 

I am the Executive Director of Energy Conservation Works in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We work with the Town of Jackson, Teton County, Lower Valley Energy, and a wide spectrum of organizations on emissions reductions, promoting renewables, and energy conservation in building and transportation. The organization is a public/private partnership that looks at how the local community uses energy and where it comes from, and uses that information to provide guidance about how to reduce the community’s environmental footprint. Jackson Hole has also joined a large number of other mountain towns aiming to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. We have focused on Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown to create “Drawdown Jackson Hole” focusing on the carbon footprint of Jackson Hole and what actions we can take to reduce carbon emissions.

 

 

How did you end up in your current job? Did you always know you wanted to work in this field? 

I was a Geology major at Amherst before there was an Environmental Studies track, but the liberal arts curriculum allowed me to take a lot of classes similar to the Environmental Studies experience. I went to Jackson Hole for one summer to lead fly fishing for personal experience, and I have been there ever since. I was a field educator for an environmental education center and had many experiences that were more aligned with my field of study in college. About 12 years ago I was hired as the first executive director for a startup working on energy issues, and then later as a subcontractor for Department of Energy on alternative transportation fuels. I started my current position about 5 years ago, and my career has absolutely given me the chance to apply my academic background to my personal passions.

What do your job responsibilities entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

My job includes multifaceted and diverse responsibilities and what I do on any given day depends on a number of variables. As the executive director I oversee all aspects of running the NGO/GO including fundraising, administration, staffing, communications, marketing, and program development.

What part of your job is the most challenging? What aspect is most rewarding?

The diversity of tasks inherent in running a small organization with a lot of program areas can be challenging, and it is frustrating that despite overwhelming scientific evidence about the need to act, we collectively aren’t doing nearly enough. I’ve encountered a lot of firsts on this job especially in the state of Wyoming. I’ve successfully launched the first shared solar project in the state and maintained a unique partnership with two different governments and a power company, which has been embraced by the community. We work on engaging everyone who pays a power bill to give them the option to opt into green (wind) power. Anyone who lives there can participate, and we target businesses strategically and engage with residents in a variety of ways.

How did your Amherst education prepare you for a job in the environmental field?

I have always been excited to learn, and Amherst really cultivated that trait - I came out of the experience with a diverse array of knowledge and skills which were very important for my career path and day to day work. I wasn’t really involved in environmental work at the school (no OES yet), but I went abroad to the Lesser Antilles with Ana Martini. Since Amherst, I’ve thrown myself into sustainability work.

What is one piece of advice you would give to current students who want to pursue a career in climate action/sustainability?

Find one thing you are incredibly passionate about and run with it (personally, academically, professionally) and you’ll be surprised where that takes you.

How do you predict the environmental field will change in the coming years? What area(s) do you think will have a lot of jobs or opportunity for growth in the near future?

There is certainly no lack of data on the importance of these issues; what’s critical is communication and engagement around the issues. Social and communication fields within sustainability will be crucial to supporting social movements, communicating with corporations, and facilitating change within environmental fields. The ability to communicate with people through writing is so important if you want to call people to action and keep them aware and engaged with important issues.


Emmalie Dropkin profile

 Emmalie Dropkin

What company/organization do you work for? How does its mission relate to environmental work? 

Without deliberately planning to, in the last few years I’ve managed to make climate justice part of every aspect of my life! In the mornings I’m a writer of climate fiction, in the afternoons I teach a climate-themed first-year writing course at UMass Amherst, and all the other times I’m a coordinator for Extinction Rebellion Western Massachusetts. Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an international non-violent direct action movement calling for urgent truth-telling and action on the climate emergency, often through striking public art and protests. In the US, XR’s fourth demand centers on “a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and establishes indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of humanity and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all.”
 
How did you end up in your current job? Did you always know you wanted to work in this field?

Three and a half years ago, I moved back to the Amherst area to pursue an MFA in creative writing at UMass. I was already working on a climate novel, and back in DC I had been the Director of Policy, Data, and Research for a nonprofit, but I hadn’t put my creative and policy roles together. Strangely, it was the process of writing the novel that brought me to collective action: there was just no way to write a typical Hero Journey structure where a protagonist could “save the day” in the context of climate change. To have real impact, my character had to act with other people. I spent the last year of writing thinking about those narrative structures, and a few weeks after my thesis defense, the April Rebellion took place in London. Extinction Rebellion UK shut down a handful of bridges and other targets from April 15th to April 25th in protests complete with pink boats, tree-planting in intersections, and more. On May 1st, the UK Parliament declared a climate emergency. I wanted in. The first meeting of XR Western Mass was May 20th, and I showed up.  

What do your job responsibilities entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

XR is all-volunteer, so it varies daily! I’m one of three folks doing the bulk of the coordinating work for the general meetings and such, and then we have a series of working groups focused on art, actions, outreach, strategy, regenerative culture, and more. In addition to facilitating meetings, I do a lot of our communications, including newsletters, calendars, graphic design, web updates, social media, etc. I’ve also gotten to know a lot of scholars and activists in climate and climate-adjacent spaces through my teaching at UMass and relationships around the Valley, so some of the work I do is about making connections between people. Some days it’s just about showing up. If anyone in western Mass wants to get involved, you can find out about our upcoming meetings at xrwesternmass.org.

What part of your job is the most challenging? What aspect is most rewarding?

There’s inevitably a tension when you’re volunteering your time and the work starts to pile up! We’re not even a year old, so we’re still building our capacity as an organization and at the same time are constantly taking on more than we quite have the bandwidth to do. But that said, this work has made me feel more connected to people of all ages and backgrounds from across the Valley than I ever did as a student at Amherst or UMass. And those relationships are a necessary support system for submersing myself in constant awareness of the climate emergency and how much it is changing and will change every aspect of our lives and our planet. Those emotions are big and hard for all of us, and as important as collective action is for achieving solutions, I find community equally valuable.

How did your Amherst education prepare you for a job in the environmental field? Were you involved with any environmental work (or with the OES) at all during your time at Amherst?

I graduated from Amherst in 2007 having taken some education-focused courses in the English and Black Studies departments and planning to work in education policy. I first taught special education in Baltimore for four years, then worked in early childhood education policy for five years in DC. I had seen An Inconvenient Truth when it came out in 2006 and recognized the problem of climate change, but it was really a creative project I began in late 2014 that demanded I do extensive background research on the subject. As I said above, by the time I finished that book, there was nothing else I could do.

What is one piece of advice you would give to current students who want to pursue a career in climate action/sustainability?

I’ll tell you what I tell my first-year students at UMass: the world you’ll enter as adults is fundamentally different and more vulnerable than even the world I graduated into 13 years ago. Our lives cannot and will not follow the paths our parents and grandparents could plan for. No matter what you’re studying, your field will be influenced by these massive environmental changes and the societal changes they demand. Study what you love, and do that every day with the connections between those studies and the climate emergency in mind. And if your department isn’t already offering courses that highlight those connections and prepare you for the future in a way that’s different from how people have been prepared for your field for the last hundred years, demand that kind of education. It’s what you need, and it’s the only way we might still have higher education a century from now.

How do you predict the environmental field will change in the coming years? What area(s) do you think will have a lot of jobs or opportunity for growth in the near future?

Extinction Rebellion places a major focus on “Regenerative Culture” which is described as “how we move towards a practice and demonstration of the change we want to deeply experience in this and all society. Its purpose is to nurture a new culture that is resilient and robust and which can support us all through the changes we must inevitably face together.” The way we live will have to change. If we do nothing differently, the climate crisis will accelerate to the point of extinction of humanity along with the many, many species already lost. The “we” here is really the major corporations doing the worst of the damage, but it’s also all of us. If we could build a regenerative culture within our society, every job could be rooted in values that counter the destructive forces of individualism and unregulated capitalism that have driven the climate and ecological crisis, as well as colonialism, racism, and other injustices. For that world, what roles do we need? People who know how to heal the land, how to create and maintain the renewable technologies we’ll need, how to teach and heal and care for others. Even writing this, it’s clear to me that the writing, teaching, and administrative skills I cultivated through years of work have served me well in my efforts with Extinction Rebellion. We bring all of ourselves to our communities and to collective action. Think about what you bring.