Published: Nov. 20, 2020 By

In each installment of our new “Humans of MENV” article series, we feature stories from multiple students that touch on their personal experiences with the program. Each round of "Humans of MENV” has a narrative theme—this second installment is about students’ experiences pivoting mid-career to pursue work in the environmental field. Check it out!

Ethan Abner, Environmental and Natural Resources Policy

Ethan Abner Portrait“Prior to MENV, I was at the Department of Defense working in Legislative Affairs. Before that, I was working on Capitol Hill as a military legislative assistant for a member of Congress who represented the district where I grew up in South Florida. We were involved with the Army Corps of Engineers, and one of my focus areas was actually on Everglades restoration. I didn’t really know if national security was what I wanted to do long term, so getting a small taste of conservation and environmental policy stuff was awesome. I traveled a lot when I was in the military, and my undergraduate degree was in international affairs, so environmental policy was never really on my radar until I’d actually gotten to work with it.

I worked with great folks on both sides of the aisle—Republican and Democrat—but being in DC for five years with all the politics there got pretty exhausting. I thought MENV would be a really good opportunity for me to dip my toe into the environmental policy side of things. Climate change is going to have an impact on all facets of our lives, including national security, so there’s this really interesting potential niche within the Department of Defense that’s related to the environment. If I ever wanted to bridge that divide, now I think I would be able to. The program here has already introduced me to a lot of new things. On the Hill, I covered a variety of issue areas—probably twelve different things—and so I was in an inch deep and a mile wide. Getting a better understanding of environmental policy and how all that works will allow me to bring my own expertise into the policymaking cycle. It’s something I’m really looking forward to.

Having a basic understanding of how the government works, how it's supposed to function, and understanding the interplay between the three branches is a helpful skill to have. So is being able to communicate with people about things that are controversial in a way that’s respectful—I think there’s a lot of that missing today. I’m hoping that in my career I can have conversations with folks and disagree on things, then say, ‘Alright, cool. Let’s work towards a solution,' because then we’re all going to be better off in the end. Being able to question things is important, but being able to do it in a way that’s respectful—that is crucial.”

Claire Kendall, Environmental and Natural Resources Policy

Claire Kendall Portrait“I went to an environmentally conscious Middle School where we did a lot of habitat restoration and water quality monitoring—things that 12-year-olds don't typically do. So, I've been environmentally focused since I was pretty little. I really thought environmental science was going to be the path forward but at the same time, I was also pretty good at dance. When you're that young, you don't really know who made the decision, but a decision was made that I was going to go to dance school. You ask a 12-year-old, do you want to go to school, or do you want to go dance every day all day? They're gonna be like, yeah let's dance every day! Dancing still is—and will always be—my first love.

I went SUNY Purchase College in New York, where I got a BFA in dance and minored in biology. One thing that really piqued my interest was a summer course at Colorado College in Environmental Art. We basically camped, talked to stakeholders and made art—and it was perfect. It really opened this door where I didn’t have to choose—I could be both. The kind of sad reality of a dance career is that you have to have a second job, and I wanted mine to be impactful and worthwhile.

When I came into this program, I was pleasantly surprised about how the skills I developed from being a dancer and being an artist—creativity, problem-solving, teamwork—were super transferable. Environmental communications up to this point have failed, and we're not really putting information out there that is engaging people in a way where they feel like they can contribute or feel emotionally connected to it. But you can get that from art. So I feel like the arts could actually play a huge role in shifting the paradigm of what’s important.”

Ben Snyder, Urban Resilience and Sustainability

Ben Snyder Portrait“I graduated from college and I felt like my calling was to go home and work with my family's auto group. I went through the parts department, the service department, wrote service, and managed service operations with the help of our Fixed Operations Director. I eventually got taken higher up in the organization and was managing loner/rental fleets and also helped spur our uptake of the Uber for Business Platform and implemented a pay-by-text customer service solution that is probably my happiest achievement. The business was doing well, but my family and I both knew how much I loved nature. When I was young, I used to walk around the garden and just be fascinated by flowers; I know all the flower names now. So anyway, I felt like that was a good time for me to exit and pivot to the MENV program.

I intend to bring my environmental education back to the auto industry and consult the dealer body. There are so many ways the dealer network can be more environmentally sustainable: solar panels on the roofs, recycling, lighting—the little stuff that all adds up. Sure, it might be more expensive in the short term, but these changes are really going to save you money in the long run and make you more visible and relevant. I remember calling the vendor we used at the auto group for trash, and I spoke with a lady who basically said ‘listen, all that recycling that you're going to pay for is going to end up in the landfill.’ It really bothered me that I couldn’t implement these simple changes and that made me want to go back to school.

Another thing that brought me here was the lack of infrastructure around electric vehicles in Virginia. There was nowhere for the consumer to charge their car once they purchased it, so it didn’t make sense to invest. MENV courses like Land Use and Development have changed the way I think about transit, transportation, and ways the automotive industry might be rearranged in a more sustainable way. I want to bring that knowledge and planning back into the auto industry after the program.”