Published: Jan. 27, 2021 By

Bianca is a 2019 MENV graduate who specialized in Environmental Policy. She currently works as an Associate at Kearns & West, a collaboration and strategic communications firm. In this alumni spotlight article, Bianca tells us about her current role, her journey to finding a job during COVID, and her advice to current and future MENV students.

What is your academic and professional background?

Bianca Valdez HeadshotI received a B.S. in Hydrogeology with a certificate in Environment and Sustainability from the University of Texas at Austin. While at UT, I spent some time as a research assistant at a Vertebrate Paleontology lab and interned for a local environmental news source organization, now known as the Austin Common. Shortly after graduation, I moved to Boulder and began the MENV Program. During my time at CU Boulder, I worked with a wonderful team on a Capstone project with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) where we helped the state with their water plan update process. Prior to my current role with Kearns & West, I also supported the Udall Foundation’s National Center for Environmental Conflict Resolution (NCECR) in carrying out a climate and conflict resolution assessment.


Where do you work and how would you describe your role?

I work at Kearns & West, a collaboration and strategic communications firm. We take on projects that include work at all levels of government and that cover sectors such as water, energy, land-use, and more. In my Associate role I support a range of projects, including stakeholder engagement, communications, problem-solving, public engagement, outreach projects, and dispute resolution. I am a couple of months into this role and I am really enjoying it! I would like to add that I am grateful for my MENV Capstone project, as it really helped me to build the skills I needed for this role.


How did you find your current position? Could you speak about your job search process and how it went?

From August 2020 to the beginning of December 2020, I was remotely interning with a small federal agency, the Udall Foundation's National Center for Environmental Conflict Resolution (NCECR), where I supported NCECR in carrying out an assessment on whether there is a role for environmental collaboration and conflict resolution in the climate arena. I loved my time at NCECR and it helped me determine the direction I wanted to take my career, which is in public engagement and collaboration on environmental issues. While I was working at NCECR I virtually networked with other professionals in the field, and in one of those conversations I found out about Kearns & West and that they were hiring. Right when my internship ended, I started my role as Associate at Kearns & West.

Overall, my career journey in 2020 was an interesting experience. The first half of 2020 was pretty difficult in terms of job-seeking, but I learned to navigate life better through these times and I am grateful to be where I am now. Although it was difficult to find a job, I was glad to have a few months of rest after graduating from the program.


Were there any hard or soft skills you felt you lacked or wished you were stronger in when you started your career after graduate school? (i.e. negotiation skills, a certain certification, leadership skills, etc.)?

I wished I had more practice with running and facilitating a meeting. Also, I should have utilized the professional growth services offered by MENV (practicing interviews, negotiation, etc.) more, and I recommend other students take advantage of this. Lastly, I could sharpen my planning development/tracking skillset a bit more for projects, such as learning more about tools like Excel spreadsheets or Asana.


What is something people may not know about you?

I really enjoy writing stories. I had to develop a creative project of my choosing for an environmental health course at UT Austin, and I wrote a children’s story called "Marina and the Monstrous Microbeads". The story is about the journey of a mermaid trying to get to bottom of the mysterious microbeads (plastic) infiltrating the homes of all her friends. She discovers the monster (the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) and observes it's far and wide effects on the world. She lays out ways to act and defeat this monster (plastic pollution).


What advice would you give to current and/or future MENV students?

Your time at MENV goes by so quickly, so really try to slow down and enjoy the process as much as you can! Utilize the resources available and really get to know the professors. Besides the classes and Capstone, there are so many opportunities to grow through the MENV workshops, networking events, talks, and more. Also, one thing I did was reach out to professionals working in the sector I was interested in for a coffee chat.

It was a great way to learn more about an organization, get advice, and network while also trying out different coffee shops in Boulder—Trident Cafe will always be my favorite! Speaking of networking, do it! It will take you far in your professional journey. And of course, spend time building quality relationships with others in the program, and have fun.