Neil is a 2018 MENV graduate who currently works as the Director of Development at WaterWatch of Oregon, a Portland-based non-profit that protects and restores natural streamflows in Oregon rivers. In this alumni spotlight article, Neil tells us about his current position and his job search experience, as well as shares his advice for current and future MENV students.
What is your academic and professional background?
I received my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Vermont before going on to the MENV program where I received my master’s, specializing in Environmental Policy. I’ve worked almost exclusively for nonprofits throughout my career—as a Field Manager with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group in Vermont, a Carbon Sequestration Researcher with The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, and now as the Development Director with WaterWatch of Oregon. I also spent a year in Seattle after graduating from the MENV program working for a consulting firm, where I started and then directed a canvassing office on behalf of Amnesty International for refugee rights advocacy.
Where do you work and how would you describe your role?
I work for a Portland-based statewide nonprofit called WaterWatch of Oregon. Our mission is to protect and restore Oregon’s rivers, which is largely done through policy advocacy and relevant legal avenues. In short, the goal of the organization is to make sure Oregon’s rivers have enough water to support the species and people that rely on them. My role at WaterWatch is Development Director and I’ve been in this position for just over two years. I work closely with our Executive Director to secure funding for WaterWatch in a variety of ways. We have a fairly small team, so my work involves everything from cultivating major donors and managing a statewide membership program to coordinating events and writing grants. The work has provided me with a great perspective on what goes into managing a nonprofit and growing its capacity.
How did you find your current position? Could you speak about your job search process and how it went?
I found my current role on a job board, after leaving my position as Canvass Director in Seattle and spending a month or so job searching full-time. My job search process right out of the MENV program took a few months and many applications, but I found that having a year of relevant experience helped the second time around. Networking and informational interviews did not lead me directly to either role, but they were quite helpful in getting insider perspectives on organizations and locations before applying to open roles.
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?
No specific soft skills come to mind, but I certainly could use a stronger legal background in my current role. I took two law courses at CU during the MENV program and I wish I had taken one in water law too. My policy background from graduate school has been valuable in my role at WaterWatch as well as in my previous role in consulting, but water law is a very specialized area that can be tough to enter without the right education. I think having a stronger legal background would serve me well in my job when I need to translate complex, technical matters that our program staff work on into layperson’s terms for WaterWatch donors and supporters.
What is something people may not know about you?
Well, I’m currently living in a studio apartment with over 200 houseplants, courtesy of my fiancée, Greta. It’s like a jungle in here and I like to hang out with the giant monstera on my work Zoom calls.
What advice would you give to current and/or future MENV students?
Don’t despair when job searching—it takes persistence. Quality over quantity is a good rule of thumb for applying. Also, take advantage of all the opportunities to get involved while you’re at CU! There are so many symposiums and lectures going on that are interesting and can be really good ways to network for a job.