Environmental Science ‘01
Public Affairs and Communications Manager, Las Virgenes Municipal Water District
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications in 1994, Mike returned to Ohio State to earn a second bachelor’s degree in 2001, majoring in Environmental Science. Today, he utilizes both degrees as Public Affairs and Communications Manager for Las Virgenes Municipal Water District in Calabasas, California.
We spoke to Mike over the phone. Read the spotlight article compiled from our conversation:
A Glance at Mike’s Current Work
Like most others in this field, Mike agrees that there really is no “typical day.” The state of California is ground zero for water management as manufacturing, agriculture, technology, residential, and environmental stewardship all compete for this finite resource. Additionally, rapid population growth and water allocation restrictions have created a dynamic challenge of pitting these needs against each other. Mike’s agency delivers healthy water to its customers and is one of the only facilities in the country beginning to use recycled wastewater to make potable drinking water.
Other parts of his job include giving presentations at schools, conferences, and events to share where Southern California water comes from, current events, wastewater processes, climate change influences, and emergency response lessons learned (such as in the case of the highly destructive Woolsey Fire).
Mike also writes press releases, develops digital media content, interviews executive level water professionals on industry initiatives, responds to media inquiries, and serves on local and State Boards.
He calls his job a job of passion and finds solidarity with other SENR graduates who are also working to make the world a better place. Before his current position, he worked for Friends of Big Walnut Creek, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, Tinkers Creek Watershed Partners, the Columbus Public Health Department, the Palmdale Water District, and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
During his undergraduate career, Mike landed an internship with his chemistry professor at the Byrd Polar Research Center, where he was able to help with processing ice cores and measuring differences in atmospheric gases over time. While he describes himself as more of a communicator and extrovert, he still found the nitty-gritty research work fascinating. Additionally, he worked in a water quality lab through CFAES, and participated in water quality sampling through this lab. He also worked part-time for Sam Ash Music, and spent his free time playing in bands.
Advice for Current Students
According to Mike, one of the most beneficial things you can do is grow your professional network. He recommends getting to know as many people as you possibly can, volunteering, getting involved in various organizations, and getting your name in front of as many people as you possibly can – because you never know who can put in a good word for you throughout your job search!
He refutes the stigma that once you find a job, that will be your job for the rest of your life, because that’s not how it works anymore. Mike asserted that embracing change has been incredibly beneficial in his career and advises not to be afraid to move to another state to put your degree to use, or move on to something better once you feel like you’ve gotten what you wanted out of your job. On that note, he urges young professionals to stay true to themselves and to have the confidence to embrace challenges that are uncomfortable. This mindset forces you to grow and overcome your fears, and alternatively, to summon your inner moxie to walk away from a job when it’s not good for you.
While Mike acknowledges the importance of research, he advocates for science communication as well. It is very challenging to convey research and important technical information to others, but it can be just as important as the research itself.
Embrace challenges that are uncomfortable. This mindset forces you to grow and overcome your fears, and alternatively, to summon your inner moxie to walk away from a job when it’s not good for you.
Part of Mike’s success can be attributed to his work ethic and extreme drive to push himself. He is constantly trying to move forward to perform bigger and more significant functions with a higher caliber of responsibility.
For Mike, being told “No” has been incredibly motivating. If anything, he uses “No” as fuel to push himself even harder. He also says he has applied for jobs in the past for which he didn’t meet every qualification, and he often still received an interview. The interviews themselves were great experiences, and he has found that often the right attitude and personality can be more important than meeting every single qualification. When Mike hires people, he knows that all of the final applicants have the minimum criteria to perform the job well, but what makes a person rise above others is personality. He believes that you hire the person and teach them the job.
Mike’s Thoughts About Attending Graduate School
As a hiring manager himself, Mike feels that experience often speaks more to an applicant’s abilities than an extra degree. He feels fortunate to have graduated in 2001, when advanced degrees were not as necessary as they are now – although after receiving two bachelor’s degrees he spent as much time in higher education as those who pursue advanced degrees. On the other hand, he says today’s world is totally different, the market is saturated with so many different people with degrees, it feels as though an advanced degree is necessary in order to even be competitive.
Academics are very important to provide a graduating student with a foundation to build from, but real-world experience is invaluable. SENR is your launching spot which begins your pursuit of getting involved and hopefully making a difference. Don’t be afraid to embrace change and challenges even when they seem insurmountable. You will learn that you have the strength and the inner inspiration to accomplish big things. You are part of a huge SENR family that supports you and we all want you to become the best you can be.
Post created March 2020