Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability ‘18
AmeriCorps Sustainability Outreach Public Ally, City of Cincinnati’s Office of Environment and Sustainability
Sarah graduated in 2018 after majoring in Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability with a minor in Nonprofit Studies. After completing four different internships in college, she now works as an Americorps Sustainability Outreach Intern for the City of Cincinnati’s Office of Environment and Sustainability. In her current position, she works with the city on energy efficiency and electric vehicle programs.
Read the interview with Sarah:
A Glance at Sarah’s Current Work
My work centers mostly on energy efficiency and electric vehicle programs. I help manage our free EV parking program, lead electric vehicle educational ride-and-drives, organize stakeholder engagement sessions on EV charging infrastructure and energy benchmarking policy proposals, and assist with implementation of the City’s energy benchmarking program for hundreds of city-owned properties.
Monday through Thursday I’m at City Hall. My responsibilities really depend on the day. I spend some time in meetings, speaking with stakeholders, analyzing and correcting spreadsheets, etc. Sometimes I also get to do community outreach or tabling events to teach people about the work our department does around the city. On Fridays, I’m at AmeriCorps Public Allies training. The locations for these rotate to different nonprofit offices around Cincinnati. Usually these days involve some form of leadership training or community research. Later in the term, we’ll be broken into teams that work with a community to develop a long-term service project.
The most rewarding part of my current job is helping develop programs and policies that I know will create real change for a large number of people. In other positions, I’ve operated programs that would only impact a limited group, and in this role, I feel like I have the opportunity to do more. The leadership development and social justice trainings I have received through the AmeriCorps side of the program have had an immediate effect on my long-term goals and values as well.
On campus, I was involved in the Net Impact Undergraduate Chapter, SENR Student Ambassadors, the Coca-Cola Sustainability Grant project (Light Up with LED), the Fisher Energy & Sustainability Immersion program, STEP, and the Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity. I was also a Research Assistant for Dr. Jeremy Brooks and attended the AASHE conference.
I also pursued internships while in college. I was a Development Intern with Ohio Environmental Council, a Communications and Events Intern with Clean Fuels Ohio, a Sustainability Analyst Intern with Ohio State Athletics, Business Advancement, and Business & Finance, and a Smart Columbus Intern on the Electrification Coalition.
"I accepted a job at a nonprofit in D.C. and moved there less than two weeks after graduation. After 6 months of living there, I had to move home to Ohio for personal reasons. I felt like such a failure for leaving a good paying job in my field, and I was sure I was never going to find a new position. But that ended up being one of the most valuable decisions of my life."
What is your advice for someone still in college who wants to do what you do?
Attend as many events and conferences off campus as you can, and complete as many internships and volunteer experiences as possible. I feel like every internship or job opportunity I’ve received has been pure luck. I was in the right place at the right time when a position was announced, or I happened to meet someone at an event long before they were hiring.
In addition, be careful not to overextend yourself or take anything too seriously. And, don’t stress too much about landing the perfect job right out of school; if you’re passionate, hardworking, and willing to learn, the best opportunities present themselves naturally.
What experience do you feel was most valuable in your professional development?
Experiencing failure. Or at least unexpected change.
I accepted a job at a nonprofit in D.C. and moved there less than two weeks after graduation. After 6 months of living there, I had to move home to Ohio for personal reasons. I felt like such a failure for leaving a good paying job in my field, and I was sure I was never going to find a new position. But that ended up being one of the most valuable decisions of my life.
First, it taught me that the best companies treat you like a person, not an employee. My organization was incredibly supportive, allowed me to work remotely during my transition, and even offered to wait for me to move back to DC if I wanted to. Second, after moving back to Cincinnati, I found an incredible number of opportunities that I had never imagined would be right in my hometown. I worked two part-time positions for a few months that taught me so much more about my field than my first and allowed me to meet a range of local sustainability leaders.
It was at a meeting in one of those positions that I heard about my current AmeriCorps placement; it had an extremely short hiring deadline and hadn’t been posted anywhere. After expressing my interest, I was offered the role within a matter of days and it has been the most impactful position of my entire career. And it never would have happened if I hadn’t “failed.”
"The best companies treat you like a person, not an employee."
What was your next step after graduation?
I started working immediately. After I moved back to Cincinnati, I did take 2 weeks off at one point to travel. I went backpacking in the Rockies and Yosemite, and it was one of the best trips of my life. For me, it reaffirmed that I was in the right field (especially after so much uncertainty).
What was most important to you in your job search?
It was most important to me to work for an organization that actually believed in the mission they presented. Before graduation I interviewed for some private companies and consulting firms that had “sustainability” teams, but they were little more than PR stunts. I didn’t want to be a part of any kind of false marketing or greenwashing.
In job listings, I learned to be sure to look for words that emphasized any kind of sales responsibilities. I knew that I wanted to manage or create programs that anyone could be involved in, not sell products that only a few people could afford. I didn’t want profits or sales quotas to be the main motivator in my role.
I’ve also learned to look at the role’s responsibilities and opportunities alone, without the salary or anticipated prestige. Many of my friends who accepted job offers based on pay or reputation have not found them to be fulfilling, and I don’t want to fall into that trap. I can adjust my lifestyle to live on a lower salary if it means I enjoy what I do the 40+ hours a week I’m at the office. On the other hand, learning to negotiate your salary is an important skill. Don’t accept less than you’re worth or let a company take advantage of you.
If you don’t have an advanced degree, do you feel that has been limiting for you? Would you consider getting an advanced degree in the future, or are you happy with your current opportunities?
For more advanced positions, I feel like I would need to specialize in some area of sustainability, but I don’t think I’ve had trouble yet. I do wish that I had more opportunity to specialize or learn real skills in my undergraduate major, though.
There are programs that require you to be an enrolled graduate student that I would be interested in pursuing (EDF Climate Corps, for example). So, I do think I’ll go back to school at some point. I want to pay off my undergraduate loans and spend a bit more time in the field to better understand my interests before that happens. I am extremely happy with the opportunities I’ve had though, and AmeriCorps offers an education grant that will help me return to school when I’m ready.
Post created March 2020