Career Clusters Stories + Advice

Turning Your Environmental Activism into a Career

person hold a green plant

The Career Center, in partnership with the Environmental Studies Program, Office of Sustainability, EcoPledge, and BC Energy and Environment Alumni Network, will be hosting Green Careers Night on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. in Gasson 100 for an evening of networking with BC alumni and professionals representing a variety of green industries.

Below, we asked three alumni (some of whom will be attending Green Careers Night) to share how they turned their environmental activism into a career:

  • Julia Gabbert ’10, Sociology Major
  • Kathleen Woodward ’83, ’88, Political Science Major
  • Pat Knight ’08, Geophysics Major

Note: If you cannot attend Green Careers Night and are interested in connecting with alumni, we highly encourage you to use BC’s online mentoring platform, Eagle Exchange.

What do you currently do?

Julia Gabbert

JG: I’m the Associate Director of Major Gifts at Corporate Accountability. This means I organize and manage organizers to meet with our members across the country to join our movement by taking action or making a financial contribution to the organization. The best part about my job is that I spend all day building relationships with people who are concerned about the environment and want to channel their resources and energy into movements that are having an impact.

Kathleen Woodward

KW: I’m a Senior Enforcement Attorney at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My job involves working closely with EPA technical staff (e.g., engineers, scientists) who inspect facilities and identify potential violations of federal and state environmental laws. Together, we compile and organize evidence, issue administrative complaints seeking compliance and penalties, and either reach settlement with the offender or take them to court. I also work very closely with the U.S. Department of Justice on our biggest cases to reach settlement or go to trial.

Pat Knight

PK: I’m a Principal Associate at Synapse Energy Economics, an energy and environmental consulting firm in Cambridge, MA. I work on behalf of varied clients like Sierra Club, U.S. EPA, and Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to run electricity models to help figure out how the United States can transition to a clean energy future. I spend most of my day working with a team on technical analysis, writing reports describing our results, or talking to clients and helping them accomplish their goals.

How have you translated your interest in the environment/sustainability to a career?

JG: After graduating, I knew I wanted to apply what I learned in my courses into meaningful action. I sought out an organization that was doing work that represented my values, and applied for a couple of different jobs there, focusing on the organization more than the specific role. After 9 years at the organization, my role is now to move resources and power into systemic level changes to have a meaningful impact on the worst effects of the climate crisis.

KW: As a political science major at BC, I was very interested in what constitutes good governance. I knew that I wanted to go into public service, though I didn’t know what shape that service would take. My senior year, I had an internship in the Massachusetts State House. This transitioned into a two year research position with a legislative commission charged with studying radioactive waste disposal. It was that experience that sparked my interest in environmental issues, and in environmental law, in particular. In law school at BC, I took courses that I thought would serve me well in an environmental law career. After graduating from law school, I clerked for a judge for a year then joined the environmental litigation department of a large Boston law firm. My career at EPA followed and I have found it to be challenging and meaningful.

PK: My interest in the environment and sustainability has formed the core of my career. I’ve always been interested in both environmental stewardship and computer programming. Today, I spend most of my time tinkering with energy models to help figure out how to build a cleaner electricity system and avoid catastrophic climate change. It’s the best of both worlds!

What activities were you involved in at BC that helped you discover your interest in the environment/sustainability?

JG: My formal education through my sociology classes, in addition to the worldview I gained through my participation in Arrupe and PULSE, was the perfect pairing in politicizing me to make change on our campus. In working with my teaching assistant and colleagues, we started Real Food BC, a student organization dedicated to building a more sustainable food system at Boston College and beyond, and through this I realized the power of asking for what you want and organizing for change.

KW: As noted above, I didn’t discover my interest in environmental issues until after I left BC. However, BC’s philosophy of using our education and strengths to serve the needs of the world promoted and supported my desire to go into public service.

PK: One of the most impactful activities I took part in at BC was writing a senior thesis. In my senior thesis, I wrote a computer model to analyze trends in hurricane pathways, and how they could be contributing to melting ice sheets in Greenland. Much of what I learned in that thesis directly translates into my current day-to-day job: making a plan and sticking to it, thinking hard about model inputs and outputs, and translating the results into a readable—and potentially useful—document. Although I had discovered my interest in the environment long ago, my senior thesis was my first opportunity to put all sorts of different skills together and make something I was proud of at the start of my career.

What do you wish someone had told you about entering this field?

JG: If you’re excited about getting into this field, dive in, start somewhere. Focus more on the mission and the impact you want to have than the specific role you’ll take on, and know that experience and demonstrated interest can be more important than a graduate degree.

KW: This is a field that requires commitment, scientific rigor, vision, and creativity. We need people with a wide range of skills to collaborate in order to ensure the continuation of life on earth. I think that I would have liked someone to challenge me to think big and be visionary!

PK: Get really, really good at Microsoft Excel. This is a skill that anyone can do, since there is an endless number of free online instructions. And, there were plenty of opportunities in coursework at BC to get good at Excel (in physics, geology, computer science, and social sciences) and students should take advantage of as many of these as possible. Being a person who can use Excel effectively is a useful talent in many jobs (not just niche energy consulting). But because working in energy and the environment often means scanning through giant datasets or building a case with hard numbers, being good at Excel is especially important in our field.

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