Year of Graduation: 2005
Current Position: Director of Admissions & Systems, Ecology Project International (EPI), Missoula, MT
Please provide a brief description of your current position and where you are working.
I work as Director of Admissions & Systems at Ecology Project International (EPI), which is a nonprofit that get students involved in science and conservation ecology courses internationally. We currently have field sites and offices in Belize, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Mexico, Ecuador, Yellowstone and Hawaii. The real mission of the organization is on building the next generation of conservation leaders in our local communities, so the majority of our work is with the local communities and students surrounding our field research sites. Consequently, about one-third of our students travel from the US to join our work on site. My role with EPI is to supervise the team that works with those visiting students, teachers, and families to get them engaged, prepared and excited about joining our work.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
After graduating from CSB/SJU, and a year teaching abroad through the Fulbright program, I enrolled in a Master of Science program in Biology and subsequently an MBA with a non-profit emphasis. Alongside academia, I had a few defining experiences that led me toward EPI. I volunteered as a Resident Biologist at a remote sea turtle conservation organization based on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. Subsequently I led an academic program for high school students to learn about sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica. Those experiences - academic, personal and professional - led to a natural fit with EPI and the role I currently have.
What skills are important in your field?
Working in the non-profit industry typically requires every staff member to take on a variety of roles. A diversity of competencies and experiences can often be more valuable than one highly specialized skill. That said there are some proficiencies that are universally valuable: critical thinking, clear written/verbal communication, technical competencies and strong interpersonal skills. Beyond those skills (which hopefully come along with any good liberal arts education!), a breadth of experiences can provide value to small and medium-sized international nonprofits. At EPI, we are often looking for candidates that have experience for the role being considered but often end up also valuing international/nonprofit experience, communication, technology skills, Spanish language experience and - above all - cultural fit with the organization.
What are the rewards and challenges of your position?
The types of individuals that are drawn to EPI tend to be people dedicated to making the world a better place, with diverse international experiences and perspectives and a willingness to dedicate their time toward a greater good. We all work with the knowledge that every day - no matter how challenging - is in support of the mission: to improve and inspire science education and conservation efforts worldwide through field-based student-scientist partnerships. Spending my time in this cohort of like-minded people brings a lot of energy to my work and life. It comes with some perks too: international travel, a beautiful riverside office, and a fun, relaxed work environment.
One of the challenges that many of us face when working within the environmental nonprofit sector is that a love of the outdoors and natural world attracts individuals to the organization, but the much of the administrative work itself - like most other industries -happens in offices and is primarily computer and desk based. EPI has been able to find a good balance of getting the staff outdoors as much as possible through mid-day river swims, an outdoor workspace option, remote work options and occasional trips into the field. It's important for anyone considering the environmental nonprofit sector to remember that in order to find the success you will want to be dedicated to the mission of the organization and the way in which you'll spend your days. Both are equally important!
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
CSB/SJU certainly helped shape my career in a number of ways both expected and unexpected. The academics strengthened my skill set and resume in terms of focused topics (Biology, Environmental Studies, and Philosophy) but I found a lot of meaning and preparation from the broader community and opportunities beyond the classroom. Exposure to experiences like Collegebound, the Peer Resource Program, the Arboretum and on-campus events helped strengthen my interest and confidence to explore, try new things, network and reflect on career and vocation.
Why did you decide to work for Ecological Project International?
It was a no-brainer! There are many reasons why I decided to work for EPI (and continue to!). To name a few:
- EPI has consistently been ranked among the best places to work by Outside Magazine
- The mission of the organization is closely aligned with my own personal interests/values
- The staff that work here are smart, fun and dedicated to changing the world
- There’s opportunities to incorporate international travel into my work life
- The main U.S. office is based in Missoula, Montana - a wonderful little town in Western Montana with many opportunities to get outside with a quick drive or bike ride.
What are the benefits of working with a global non-profit organization?
We all live in a world where our daily decisions and actions have broad global impacts that are easy to forget or ignore. Connecting with staff, students and conservation efforts internationally helps me keep a variety of global perspectives and issues on my radar in a way that might not be feasible in another career.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
My advice would be this: Don't feel pressured to decide on your specific career path right now. I didn't leave CSB/SJU thinking "I'd like to work for an international environmental nonprofit, and here's how I'm going to get there." Instead, I left CSB/SJU excited about specific topics and ideas: conservation, ecology, international travel, foreign languages...etc. For the greater part of a decade out of college, I followed my interests rather than a specific career path: I worked and traveled abroad, volunteered in conservation, studied topics I cared about and picked up new hobbies. Some of these paid the bills and others did not.
In the end, I'm not sure I would have been able to map out a path to my current career if I had wanted to. I can only speak for myself, but my career path was not something you I entered into Google Maps on graduation day and picked the best or fastest route. It's something that meandered, took unexpected directions and was affected by my life, interests, connections, luck and experiences. There are challenges that come with being open to that uncertainty, but it is a lot more fun and keeps you on the edge of your seat!