Environmental Policy & Management ‘11
Environmental Programs Director, N3B Los Alamos
While at Ohio State, Shawn completed a dual degree studying Environmental Policy & Management and International Studies: World Economy & Business. After earning an M.S in Natural Resource Studies from the University of Arizona, Shawn worked with several non-profit organizations in Arizona and New Mexico. He now lives in New Mexico and serves as the Environmental Programs Director for N3B Los Alamos. N3B is contracted by the Department of Energy to clean up nuclear waste associated with the Manhattan Project. In 2018 Shawn established his own consulting firm, Cascade Conservation, LLC. The firm consults with organizations in Arizona and New Mexico on habitat improvement projects for threatened and endangered species.
Read the Interview with Shawn:
A Glance at Shawn’s Current Work
I supervise a team of wildlife biologists and archaeologists now, so my typical day is not nearly as exciting as when I got to oversee greenhouse operations or run chainsaw crews. I am responsible for facilitating detailed planning reviews for every outdoor activity my organization conducts to ensure compliance with a suite of federal, state, and local regulations. We help shape project implementation strategies to protect Mexican spotted owl habitat, preserve Native American historical sites, protect wetlands, etc. while removing hazardous wastes (e.g. chromium, lead, beryllium) from the environment. I work with a wide variety of professionals who are also ensuring compliance with their areas of expertise, which range from fire protection to nuclear safety to waste management. My job is one giant group project.
I also push N3B to enact sustainability practices in order to comply with DOE Order 436.1, Departmental Sustainability. This lets me get creative, organizing Earth Day events, Bike-to-Work days, and push the organization toward adopting more energy efficient alternatives. Seasonally, we conduct surveys on the threatened and endangered species at our site, and we band migratory birds in the spring and fall. These efforts help to track the impact of the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s activities on the biological community on the Pajarito Plateau.
Career Development and Job Searching
What experience do you feel was most valuable in your professional development?
Failing. I have failed repeatedly in my professional endeavors. I have lost more grants than I have won. I have watched more plants die than I’ve successfully re-established, and I’ve not killed more invasive plants than I’ve tried to kill. But I’ve always tried to find the lesson in my failures. By having the freedom to fail, and the confidence to own my failures, I have learned how to better plan projects, more effectively communicate with partners, and more efficiently meet deadlines. Find an opportunity where you have the freedom to fail and the opportunity to learn from and fix your mistakes.
Did you have any internships or seasonal positions in college?
I volunteered as a seasonal intern at The Wilds helping to clean native seed for their habitat restoration efforts. During the summer of 2009, I volunteered to participate in a research project with the Byrd Polar Research Center. I was able to parlay that volunteering effort into a position during the school year analyzing lake core sediment samples and high-resolution climate data.
"I’ve always tried to find the lesson in my failures. By having the freedom to fail, and the confidence to own my failures, I have learned how to better plan projects, more effectively communicate with partners, and more efficiently meet deadlines. Find an opportunity where you have the freedom to fail and the opportunity to learn from and fix your mistakes."
What is your advice to someone who is still in college and hoping to do what you do?
- Research federal natural resource jobs on USAJobs to outline your course curriculum to align with those jobs’ curriculum requirements.
- Aggressively seek out a mentor on staff. Participating in research as an undergrad changed my entire career trajectory. Find a mentor, and then apply for research grants. I got to where I am because I found a talent for grant-writing.
- Put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Challenging yourself to overcome your own discomfort is the best way to grow into who you want to be.
- Experience in the field is crucial. Volunteering at The Wilds and volunteering as an undergraduate research assistant paid greater dividends than my part-time job at Barnes & Noble ever could have.
What was most important to you in your job search?
For me, job listings only tell half of the story. Apply for everything and have as many interviews with potential employers as you can handle. The biggest deal-breaker for me is not connecting with your future employer. Enjoying the people you work for and with is more valuable than anything in my mind.
Working in an environmental field is not a typical 9-5 job. People in this field are typically drawn here because of an abiding passion for the outdoors, in some way, shape, or form. So I’d be lying if I said that when looking at jobs, I didn’t consider whether the nature of the work interested or excited me. You’ve invested time and money into an environmental education. You’ve followed your passions this far. Don’t abandon them now that you’re looking for a job - make sure that job lets you continue exploring your interests somehow.
Graduate School and Pursing Advanced Degrees
What did you do immediately after graduation?
I immediately went to grad school to get my masters at the University of Arizona. I can say now that that decision was a mistake. I wasn’t mature enough to make the most of that opportunity. Because I surrounded myself with highly ambitious and successful people at Ohio State, I felt that I also needed to take that step. But I would challenge any graduating senior to seriously consider if that is the right path for them in that moment.
Graduate school will always be there for you if you want it. Take a gap year and explore the outdoors with a Conservation Corps Crew. You’ll get experience in the field, an education stipend to help you out with grad school, meet interesting people with similar interests, and likely do meaningful conservation work. That perspective will provide benefits in grad school and later in your career.
Do you plan to pursue another degree?
I have often considered pursuing a PhD. However, I don’t feel a PhD suits my career goals. Instead, I have compromised with myself by continuing to take online classes to pursue my academic interests. I like to learn, and I would never discourage someone from seeking to enhance their education. I would only advise that you ensure your academic path complements your career goals. The members on my team all have different academic backgrounds: one has a PhD, one has a masters, and one has a bachelors degree, yet we are all on the same team.
Post created April 2020