Environmental Policy and Decision Making ‘18
Minor: Cultural Anthropology
MPA, University of Washington ‘20
Communications Specialist for the Local Food Initiative, King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks
Olivia graduated from SENR in 2018 after majoring in Environmental Policy and Decision Making. While at OSU, Olivia was involved in research and many campus activities and organizations in addition to studying abroad and completing two internships. She then went on to graduate school and earned an MPA from the University of Washington. She now works as a Communications Specialist for the Local Food Initiative with the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.
Read the full interview with Olivia:
A Glance at Olivia’s Current Work
I currently work for King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks as the Communications Specialist for the Local Food Initiative. For reference, the city of Seattle is located within King County.
Since my position is completely remote, an exciting way I’ve managed to get outside more is working part-time for Seattle Dive Tours, a scuba diving company that leads tours and trains divers in the Puget Sound. I am currently training as a Divemaster to hopefully start leading tours next year!
What does a typical day look like?
I manage and assist with a wide variety of projects on issues relevant to local food systems, including new farmer training and development, agricultural resilience to climate change, affordable farmland access, and food system infrastructure. Depending on the day, I will work on one or more of these projects.
Let’s say it’s a Thursday. Usually, I will get up and check emails and then attend a meeting or two with project managers and/or non-profit partners. I work closely with experts on the previously listed topic areas, and they provide me with technical information related to legislation and county codes that I re-write and edit for public-facing reports, presentations, or other communications materials. My purpose is to ensure these materials are easily accessible, translatable, and culturally relevant for farmers, food entrepreneurs, and members of the public.
I also develop communications and outreach strategies and content for the Local Food Initiative, so I often work with public affairs and graphics teams to create content for our websites and social media.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I have found that working for local government is rewarding because you see the direct positive impacts of your work in your community. Since I’ve been working at King County for a little over two years, I have managed and assisted with a handful of projects from start to finish. Seeing a project through to the end gives me a sense of purpose because I feel more responsible for the project, so when there are major benefits to community members, I feel like I helped improve peoples’ lives around me in some way. I get a huge thrill seeing a project’s communication materials I helped develop in action, like when a farmer reaches out to me explaining the usefulness of a new farmer training guide. Instances like these are the most rewarding parts.
It is also important to me that organizations pay employees what they are worth, which includes reasonable paid time off and health benefits. I would like to note that, with the pandemic disrupting the job market, people may not be able to be as selective since job opportunities are significantly limited. I am mostly mentioning just compensation as a factor so people continue to realize their worth and be their own advocate. No one can advocate for you better than you!
At OSU I majored in Environmental Policy and Decision Making with a minor in Cultural Anthropology.
I was involved in research for three years under Dr. Robyn Wilson focused on improving water quality in agricultural landscapes. I was also a Resident Advisor for two years in Jones Tower and Barrett/Nosker Complex, which equipped me with interpersonal and conflict management skills that are very relevant to the work I do today. Perhaps most importantly (for my mental health), I was a clarinetist in the University Band and played intramural volleyball, which were fun ways to relieve stress.
I also studied abroad twice while at OSU, which was perhaps the most impactful part of my undergraduate journey. My first trip was to Argentina and Antarctica with the first cohort of travelers to go to Antarctica from OSU. This experience was life-changing, and I immediately declared my EPDM major when I returned because of the fascinating treaties and policies I learned about while on this trip. My second trip, funded by the STEP program, was to the Czech Republic to learn about sustainability and agricultural policy in the EU. This experience also played a large role in defining my career path. I learned about different ways of thinking about sustainability, which broadened my perspective on how to relate to and value diverse opinions when it comes to environmental policymaking.
In addition, within SENR, I worked as the Career Development Assistant with Trish Raridan-Preston where I assisted with large-scale career development events, year-end career reports, and resume review. I was also an SENR Honors Program Peer Mentor and Academic Affairs Committee Undergraduate Representative during my senior year, which were meaningful ways to work and connect with SENR students, faculty, and staff.
Did you have any internships or seasonal positions in college?
During my sophomore year, I was a Policy Intern with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. This internship gave me a wonderful introduction to policy work and non-profit policy agenda development.
During the summer of my junior year, I was a Soil Conservation Intern with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. This internship allowed me to relate my water quality research to on-the-ground work with farmers. To this day, I still frequently draw upon my on-farm conservation planning experiences that really put all my class discussions, papers, and presentations into perspective. Talking about pro-environmental behavior change and policymaking is one thing but seeing how proposed policies and changes directly affect people’s lives is much different, and much more difficult.
Professional Development and the Job Market
I graduated in May 2018 and went directly to graduate school that fall but traveled a bit during the summer break. I had the opportunity to travel with my mom to Norway and then backpacked throughout the Balkans for a couple months afterward, which I would highly recommend post-pandemic to anyone living on a budget with the travel bug.
After traveling during the summer, I attended the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at University of Washington and received my MPA this past June. My specializations were in Environmental Policy and Management as well as Analysis and Evaluation.
What was most important to you in your job search?
When applying for a job, it is important to me that the organization not only greatly values principles of equity and social justice but also clearly practices and embeds these principles in all programs. If an organization does not mention equity as a core value in a job announcement, I make sure to review their website, and if nothing is mentioned, I move on.
It is also important to me that organizations pay employees what they are worth, which includes reasonable paid time off and health benefits. If employees are not justly compensated, I may apply and, if interviewed, ask direct questions about how they value their employees, or I may move on. I would like to note that, with the pandemic disrupting the job market, people may not be able to be as selective since job opportunities are significantly limited. I am mostly mentioning just compensation as a factor so people continue to realize their worth and be their own advocate. No one can advocate for you better than you!
I am immensely grateful for everything that grad school has provided me. I was challenged in so many ways, and I think my program has made me a stronger critical thinker and leader. However, it is okay to wait. In fact, it is much better to wait than go to graduate school when you are not sure that you are ready.
Which experience do you feel was most valuable in your professional development?
My knowledge and passion for effective science communication and science-based policymaking came from my research experiences with Dr. Robyn Wilson. I don’t think I would be where I am today without these experiences because they opened so many doors for me -- with the USDA-NRCS, my position with King County, and graduate school research I’ve been involved in. The focus of my undergraduate thesis was developing effective communication strategies for managerial use, and at my current job, I frequently refer to this research since I now work in communications and outreach.
Dr. Wilson is also one of my role models. She is an inspiration to me whenever I am afraid to speak up at work (I am often, if not always, the youngest in meetings). I think of her standing up for science in 2016 when others were afraid to. At my job, I often speak up when I think there are more effective ways to communicate information, and I give a lot of credit to her for this confidence.
Advice for Current Students
I think many people are afraid of post-undergrad life and, because of this fear, apply to graduate school without taking some time to truly assess why they want to go. I was afraid too. There were a few people who told me to wait and explore the “real world” first, but I was stubborn, so I went to grad school immediately after graduating from OSU. I thought that I was ready, and I was really excited about moving to a new place, studying something meaningful, and meeting new people.
I am immensely grateful for everything that grad school has provided me. I was challenged in so many ways, and I think my program has made me a stronger critical thinker and leader. However, it is okay to wait. In fact, it is much better to wait than go to graduate school when you are not sure that you are ready. If I could do it over, I probably would’ve waited a few years. Fortunately, my MPA degree can be used in many ways so I am happy I chose a program that I can find a meaningful policy-related job with.
I will also add that good mentors are essential for achieving your dreams. They can help you figure out a path toward the goals you set out for yourself. More importantly, when you are struggling, unsure, or confused about your goals or your life path in general, good mentors can help provide a much needed outside perspective and life advice.