A bright, green future: Reflections on organizing the 2018 Green Careers Conference

By Lauren D’Souza ’18

When I first arrived at CMC, I sought out the Roberts Environmental Center (REC) specifically because I wanted more experience and interaction with environmental research and jobs on campus. However, if I didn’t know that I was interested in “green careers” — or that “green careers” were even an option — then I would have been clueless and lost. In my first year at the REC, one of our teams came up with a novel idea: to host a conference dedicated to showcasing the depth and breadth of environmental careers for students at The Claremont Colleges.

The inaugural Green Careers Conference was a great success: panels on environmental law, environmental business, environmental nonprofits, and environmental consulting; a career fair with organizations tabling in the I-Place courtyard; and a fantastic keynote address by Oberlin Collee Professor David Orr. I attended the conference as a bright-eyed observer, and loved the idea of having professionals with years of experience come to campus to discuss their experiences. The next year, I organized the environmental law panel, and I learned so much while I corresponded with alumni in my potential future profession and asked them all the questions my heart desired.

Each year, we made improvements to the conference, but I firmly believe that this year’s conference, the fourth annual, was the best yet. We focused on hosting panels on sectors with green jobs: energy, land use, transportation, and a general panel on green jobs for those who aren’t sure what sector is right for them. One of my priorities for the conference was ensuring that every panelist was a 5C alumnus. I found that alumni have a vested interest in returning to campus to share their insights, and students can relate more to alumni experiences.

Our panelists had wonderful wisdom to share with students, both regarding the future of jobs in their sector and general career advice.

  • Liz Mendelson-Goosens PZ ’06, a water specialist at the San Diego County Water Authority, underscored the importance of taking advantage of the unique opportunities available to college students, from study abroad to research to events like the Green Careers Conference.
  • Derek Galey PO ’09, a land use attorney for Latham & Watkins LLP, said the best advice he ever received was from a professor who told him to make his career path more of a zig-zag than a straight line—which helped Derek keep an open mind when finding jobs and internships.
  • Jake Shimkus CMC ’15, an analyst at Accenture, advised students to form a coherent narrative about their career path and interests. (Fun fact: Jake came up with the idea of hosting a conference on green jobs when he was a senior student manager at the Roberts Environmental Center four years ago, and I am honored to carry on his legacy.)

We were delighted to have Lauren Faber O’Connor, the Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Los Angeles, serve as keynote speaker, addressing a full house at the Athenaeum. O’Connor discussed her career path, from undergraduate years at Stanford to the Master’s program at Columbia, consulting on federal environmental policy, working for the British embassy, advising California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, directing the Environmental Defense Fund’s West Coast political operations, and on to her current role in the Garcetti administration.

O’Connor’s talk touched on a theme that arose during this year’s conference: It’s beneficial to not embark on a linear career path, because the environmental sector is an ecosystem of different jobs, skills, and passions that all intersect eventually. The skills, relationships, and experiences she developed in these disparate jobs have helped her reach the next step in her career. She advised students to take risks and look for opportunities in unexpected places, even if it’s not necessarily the direction they had envisioned. The environmental sector is a continuously growing and changing landscape, and we must be open to adapting to new challenges and possibilities as they arise.

At the close of the conference, we hosted a networking reception for all panelists and attendees, so that students could discuss their interests in a more intimate and informal setting. During this session and throughout the day, many students and panelists approached me to say how happy they were to see an event like this on campus. Panelist Hilary Haskell CMC ’14, a land use specialist at San Diego Gas & Electric, mentioned that networking and talking to people in the field is an important step in entering the job market, and that this event is a perfect nexus to build relationships between students and professionals. The turnout for our keynote speaker and panels was larger than any of the past Green Careers Conferences — I was amazed to see how many students from all of The Claremont Colleges are interested in sustainability and green jobs.

The success of the 2018 Green Careers Conference went above and beyond my expectations. I would like to thank all the panelists who came to campus for the day and all the students who attended — I learned so much, and I hope you did as well. I would like to acknowledge our contacts and support from the Soll Center for Student Opportunity, the Pomona Sustainability Integration Office, Pomona Career Development Office, Pitzer Career Services, the Robert Redford Conservancy, Hixon Center for Sustainable Environmental Design, Harvey Mudd Career Services, Scripps Sustainability, and Scripps Career Planning & Resources. This conference would not have been possible without the dedication and time of Kristin Miller, the REC’s sustainability programs manager; my co-organizer, Yijing Zhang CMC ’18; and the rest of the student organizing team: Chloe An PO ’18, Becky Chung CMC ’20, Lude Rong CMC ’20, Sam Horowitz PZ ’19, Sami Murphy CMC ’21, Nick Pibl CMC ’20, and Sophie Boerboom CMC ’20.