John Eckert

Research Analyist at the Environmental Protection Agency

John Eckert

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your experience with environmental careers? 

My name is John I am a senior, a double major between finance and public policy. I was part of the DC Summer Institute and there is an officer director that was an alum at the EPA and we got connected that way. There was a way for me to connect my business interests and public policy to the work they were doing at the EPA.

What were your responsibilities within this role at the EPA?

I was a research analyst intern in the Office of Community Assistance. It is not your typical EPA type of office. It is a lot of community outreach in terms of economic revitalization in environmentally sustainable ways. My job was to just research an aspect of that, talk to people throughout the EPA. It was lots of reading and writing for 40 hours a week.

I ended up reading about private and public partnerships, which is if the government does not have the funds to fund something, they can get a private organization to do it. It is helping the area through facilitation of the government, but not directly through the government.

What was it like in this position?

I realized I could not be a professor, but I could not spend the time research all day, but it was interesting to learn about, and I also learned about what I didn’t want to do.

The research and the writing I have learned at school was definitely applicable. It was very friendly, very cordial. There was probably a mix of ages, there were a few people in their 20s and 30s, mostly people were middle aged. My office was unique because it focused on grants and outreach. Sometimes it was quiet. Sometimes it was louder. It was an interesting environment.

Do you think there is room for growth in public-private partnerships?

There is always growth for private public partnerships, it is growing. It is widely used in transportation through toll roads and whatnot, but even for economic areas or environmental areas or projects, that growth is important as the government does not have the resources to do everything themselves. It takes less resources and time. It is very beneficial.

What are some examples of the communities the office works with?

There was a community in Massachusetts that was largely a fishing town, where the fishing has recently been declining,  and they asked the question “How do we keep our economy going with the history we have, while being environmentally sustainable?” We assisted them. One other community had a river running through it and they had to figure out how to protect the town in the face of rising sea levels and climate change. It was not something you would think the EPA has a large role in, but it was interesting and I enjoyed it.

What were some challenges and the most rewarding portions of the job?

The challenges was that it was hard to stay on task. I was in a cubicle by myself. Reading and writing is not the most exciting part. The most rewarding part was seeing what I was contributing being used. The Office Director was very appreciative of the work I was doing. If I continue to do it down the line, I have my impact and that is cool. They might develop more of these type of partnerships in the future.

What parts from William & Mary were most important for preparing your for this type of job?

William and mary taught me team work, although I was an individual, the office was a team. Efficiency is important. Initially they were just really surprised how upfront about communication we were, how we got our work on time, and done well. When they are in the bureaucracy sometimes it can get slow. They were surprised that we were able to contribute as immediately as we were, so exceeding expectations is definitely important.

What could a student do during their time here to better prepare?

I would take as many classes related to the environment as possible. Keep up on what the EPA is doing. If you can keep up with what they are doing and talking about that would be helpful. If you have a linkedin, connecting with alumni. Also with the DC Office is great about facillitating those connections.

You mentioned you got this job through the DC Office and their connections. What would you say to students who are nervous about approaching alumni in search of these opportunities?

As a business major, networking is a big part of it, but if you are not, you don’t have to look at it as an exchange, you want to get to know them. They really want to help you. As much as you want to get a job or an internship, just talking to them about you and your interests, really gets the conversation flowings. Just getting an email, a phone number, is worth getting them to remember you.

What would you say looking forward is important for the EPA?

I think the EPA is facing struggles because it is taking a very proactive regulatory approach, but I think the EPA is necessary for the country to stay strong. I think it is important to build partnerships with other agencies. We worked with HUD to make sure housing was built safely - lead paint is still a big problem in many places. They can partner with Dept of Agriculture and integrating the environmental as a focus there. Building these bridges can be very important.

Enjoy it while you are there, keep in contact with people.