Published: Oct. 28, 2020 By

Grace is a 2019 MENV graduate and currently works as the Urban Land and Water Program Manager for a nonprofit called Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas. In this alumni spotlight article, Grace tells us about her current position, the post-graduate job search, and her advice for current and future MENV students.

Wh​at’s your academic and professional background?

Grace Carlin HeadshotMy background has been a lot of school then work than school then work. I grew up here in San Antonio, Texas. This is where I got my undergraduate degree from Trinity University I majored in environmental biology and minored in urban studies. After graduating in 2016 I spent some time working at the San Antonio zoo. I got to play with the birds all day and educate the public about conservation and bird ecology and all sorts of great things. I did some work for a for a real estate lawyer as well during that time. After that, in 2018, I moved up to Boulder and went through the MENV program in what used to be called the Sustainability, Planning and Management specialization. I graduated in December 2019 and moved backed down to San Antonio, starting at my job in May of this year.


Tell us more about your work and your role.

I am the Urban Land and Water Program Manager at a small nonprofit here in San Antonio called Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas. We are an Urban Land Trust. Essentially what we do is we focus on conserving land and educating the San Antonio community about the importance of land preservation and green spaces. We do that through three primary programs. The first is the Land Conservation Stewardship Program, which focuses on procuring conservation easements. The second program is the Picture Your World program which offers a way for students, primarily in low income households, to explore the outdoors through the lens of a camera. The third program – which is mine – the Urban Land and Water program, primarily focuses on community gardens. What I do in this program is I help to oversee the needs of a community garden network here in San Antonio. Right now we have 21 community gardens in that network and in the past we've had as many as 50. My role here is not to dictate how they run their garden, but to help move around funding sources for them. I help allocate volunteer time. We basically step in whenever gardens ask us to help enhance their visibility and long-term sustainability so they can be of the most utility to their communities as possible.


How did you find your current position? What was the job search process like?

I’ve had my eye on Green Spaces Alliance for a while. I first heard of them back in 2014 or 2015 when I was in undergrad and visited their website.  My reaction was, “Oh my goodness, this looks like the dream workplace.” I would check back periodically to see if they had any open positions, nothing really came up for a few years. Of course, while I was up in Colorado, I broadened my horizons. I wasn't going to say, “Okay, it's Green Spaces Alliance or nothing.”

In November 2019, one month before I graduated, a position did open up at Green Spaces, but it was not the position I'm in now. It was actually for the Land Conservation and Stewardship Program Manager position. I saw that I was fairly qualified for the job, so I threw in my hat to see what happened.  I got all the way to the final interviews and was one of their top three candidates for that position. They ultimately went with another individual, but I was very proud of myself during that process for communicating to the CEO how enthusiastic I was about Green Spaces and how interested I would be in working there. I voiced how maybe this wasn't the right position for my particular strengths, but if there's anything that opens up in the near future, please let me know and that I'd love to stay in contact.

The CEO and I had some phone calls and we met for lunch one day. He told me that Green Spaces had just gotten approval to open up a brand new position to oversee their community gardens program and we talked further about the position. I had a really great interview with the CEO and then with one of Green Spaces’ board members in early March. Then, one week later, the economy shut down.

The shutdown hit Green Spaces very hard since they are a very small nonprofit. Since things just got way too uncertain for them to take on a new person at that time, it wasn't until early May that I was actually formally hired on. Essentially, I spent those first four months unemployed. It was a process of being patient and having to remind myself that it may feel like I’m just talking to walls and getting nowhere, but I have to stick with it. It was through keeping those lines of communication open, occasionally asking how things are going over there, and if there was any word on an open position.

During this time, I know many of my other colleagues have not had the same luck that I have. Sometimes what it comes down to is a combination of perseverance and luck. As soon as the pandemic hit and the economy shut down the environmental jobs just dried up, so I figured it would be wisest of me to really focus my efforts on this job and it definitely paid off.


What is something people may not know about you?

I have spent a year and a half playing with birds. In that time, I have picked up and held flamingos and pelicans for health checks, which is sometimes a painful process. Flamingos in particular!


What advice do you have for current MENV students?

My advice is threefold: Things are never going to work out perfectly, and that’s OK. It doesn't reflect poorly on you. It just means that you know the natural order of the universe is entropy and disorder and sometimes things just happen and it's OK. The way that you respond to it and feel  you are in control of that situation is by accepting it and doing your best to take what happens and making some lemonade out of it.

The second bit of advice I have is perseverance is key, especially right now. I know the pandemic seems never ending, omnipresent, dangerous, disruptive, but it’s important during this time to really focus on what you need to focus on.

Finally, I would say, especially in grad school, things can get really overwhelming really fast, especially in a pandemic and global recession. Remember to take some time to focus on yourself. Self-care is so important to. Take a step back, go outside for some air, but really do make sure to take time to care for yourself as well as the professional and academic parts that you’re invested in.