What have you been doing since you graduated? Tell me a little bit about your current role.
I graduated this past May, less than a year ago. I am now serving an AmeriCorps year in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. As the Environmental AmeriCorps Member at Hands on Nashville, I assist with the Home Energy Savings Program and Waterway Restoration Program. My organization’s mission is to meet community needs through volunteerism, so my role is to build capacity for environmental organizations and lead volunteers in sustainability projects.
When I graduated, I knew that I eventually wanted to attend graduate school for environmental policy or law. I was still deciding on which programs would be the best fit, so I wanted to get more job experience first. I applied to a bunch of positions in a few different cities. I have family in Nashville, so I came here for the summer and interned with Urban Green Lab, a local nonprofit focused on environmental education. It was a very cool experience. It allowed me to dive into nonprofit life and local issues, which I found really valuable.
Looking into the future, I would really like to study either domestic or international environmental policy. I’m especially interested in the intersection of environmental issues and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. When I came across the Hands On Nashville Home Energy Savings Program, which works to retrofit low-income homes with energy efficient upgrades, I knew it was a perfect fit for me.
What is something you have really learned from your experience?
I think that one thing that I have learned from my experience is that there are some really easy ways that you can save money and resources at the same time. The environmental movement that I was acquainted with in school is missing some low hanging fruit.
For instance, many homeowners that I work with don’t know how attic insulation could benefit them or lower their bills. It’s an environmental issue, because insulation reduces unnecessary energy use, but it’s also an economic one. As William & Mary students, we have the time and privilege to learn about these issues, and I think that we should focus on how we can impact our communities in concrete ways.
What is a really effective environmental movement to you?
An intersectional environmental movement is so important. A truly impactful environmental movement will include a wide variety of people. You will not be able to reach people if you don’t listen to new perspectives or understand how their lifestyle or culture might be different from your own.
My ideal environmental movement would focus on human wellbeing, as well. When you expand “environmental health” to include public health issues, I think that speaks to people that may not be as interested in issues like climate change or deforestation. Personal experience, the wellbeing of your family, saving money through energy efficiency – people can relate to that. Environmental issues impact people on a personal level every day, so being inclusive is really important.
What is it like in the place you work? Is it what you expected?
My organization is fairly small, with less than twenty staff members. It is a really cool, collaborative workplace. I think it is different than what I expected. When I was looking for jobs, I expected to end up in a huge, national organization with an environmental focus. My organization focuses on local volunteer work in many different areas, and the environmental movement is just a part of that. I enjoy that aspect of it though. I love where I work. I find the whole experience very valuable because I hear new perspectives every day and am always learning.
What is it like with that size? What are some of your responsibilities?
The environmental department is very small, just me and two other staff members. It’s interesting, because I’ve been able to try out a lot of different things. In my role, I lead volunteer projects each week, which include conducting energy audits on low-income homes and managing volunteers in installing energy efficient retrofits. I also work with other nonprofits that host projects like invasive species removal, waterway cleanups, and rain garden planting. It has been a very fulfilling experience because I am able to see the change I am creating in a community, but I also get to see the impact I am making in the organization.
Would this be an experience you would recommend to other people?
I would say that working for an environmental nonprofit or any local organization is really valuable. I would recommend it. At the same time, it can be difficult to find those jobs. Many of the organizations are really small, and may not have as large of a reach as national organizations.
I enjoyed my summer in Nashville, so I started reading local newspaper articles, looking at what organizations were out there. Nonprofits don’t often post jobs all at once, like big consulting firms often do, so I would recommend emailing someone at the organization to ask if they need volunteers or have positions open. I think it’s important to stay true what you believe in and are really passionate about. I found this organization through the internship through I did over the summer. I talked to some of my co-workers about the issues I cared about, and they mentioned a few organizations and people they knew. Networking doesn’t have to be a stressful, awkward experience – people notice passion, and you can bond over shared interests.
How did you find out about AmeriCorps?
I never thought about AmeriCorps when I graduated. It is a year-long community service program. My experience with Nashville nonprofits was that many of the entry-level profit positions were through AmeriCorps. Smaller nonprofits do not have much money to pay staff, so AmeriCorps is so important for capacity-building. I was a little bit skeptical about taking a position that wasn’t salaried, but it has since been one of my best decisions. I would recommend staying open minded when looking for jobs – opportunities like AmeriCorps can really pay off.
What advice would you give to a W&M student?
William & Mary is a really great place to be, with so many different clubs. I think that everyone there is so passionate, and in many ways fearless. I would advise underclassmen to get involved with clubs or issues that matter to you. Or, if you’re not sure what you’re passionate about, go learn more! You’ll find something that clicks.
Leadership roles I had in college were helpful experiences, because I had the opportunity to resolve conflicts and get along with different personalities. Any skill you pick up, whether it be GIS mapping or team-building, will benefit you later on.
When I first applied for my job, I felt like I didn’t know enough about building science to feel confident about the position. However, after my experience at William & Mary, being in classes I wasn’t sure about or taking on leadership positions in clubs, I knew that could take on the challenge. You honestly never stop learning. I didn’t know that much about energy efficiency or fixing up homes, but I was willing to try and do my best. I think William & Mary prepares you well for that.
Would you say your current job has been very fulfilling?
I love my current job, and I find it really fulfilling. It has been a learning curve performing a lot of the current roles of the job, but at the same time it has also been very empowering. It is a cool experience learning a bit about myself and what life looks life outside of college, and also just seeing what I am capable of. I also have a new appreciation for volunteering in my community. I would recommend that everyone volunteer a couple times a month – it really, truly makes a lasting impact, and there is so much work to do.