Published: Jan. 10, 2024 By ,

Sarah HammingSarah Hamming, an alumna of MENV specializing in Environmental and Natural Resources Policy (ENRP), has made a remarkable transition into the world of environmental policy. Currently serving as the Legislative Analyst at Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), Sarah’s journey exemplifies how a well-rounded education and a penchant for relationship-building can lead to success in the public sector. In this interview, she shares insights into her career, the unique challenges of working in state government, and the invaluable lessons she’s learned since graduate school.

One of the highlights of Sarah’s graduate school experience was her capstone project with American Whitewater. Her capstone project emphasized stakeholder engagement and relationship building. As someone who came into the program straight out of undergrad, this hands-on experience allowed her to pivot her career focus toward Western water policy and meet people in the space.

After obtaining her Master’s degree, Sarah moved to Washington, D.C., for an ORISE research fellowship at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Water. Throughout her educational career, Sarah had thought she was most interested in water quality, which during graduate school shifted to water policy, public lands, and recreation. Through her experience working for the federal government in D.C., Sarah got a taste of what it was like to work at a federal agency. One challenge in this space is how public-facing the agency’s work is in nature. While the federal government had solid processes for its workflow, a lot was interrupted by messages from the public or different stakeholders. Additionally, changes in administration in Washington hugely affect the work done at federal agencies. However, despite the challenges of working in the federal government, Sarah appreciated where it led her now and the insights she gained from the experience.

Sarah’s advice to current students and recent graduates considering a career in the public sector is to avoid preconceived notions. She encourages exploring opportunities and not shying away from government work based on misconceptions. For instance, Sarah had thought working at the state level would feel too big after working at small, close-knit nonprofits before graduate school. However, she explains that working in the state is a great way to open doors as many of the state agencies, particularly in Colorado, coordinate and collaborate often. She emphasizes the value of hands-on, on-the-ground work, as well as the potential for relationship-building in government roles. In hindsight, Sarah wishes she had diversified her research and project interests during her time in graduate school. For so long, Sarah thought she would only do water policy. This new job is different for her–she is doing state park work, wildlife work, and is working with several different interests across the state, including hunters and anglers, wildlife viewers, as well as environmental and recreation groups. She believes that keeping an open mind and learning about various topics during her time as a student would have better prepared her for the dynamic and interdisciplinary nature of her current role as a Legislative Analyst at CPW.

In her new role, Sarah faces complex environmental policies on a daily basis. She is actively involved in the development of legislative proposals. Her work consists of meeting with various experts within CPW to develop the background, assess bill content, work with key bill sponsors, and understand the proponents and opponents of policy initiatives. CPW is the largest division within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR). She was initially hired as the “go-between” for CPW and DNR. Sarah’s role provides a crucial bridge between CPW and the legislative process. Sarah is particularly excited about meeting legislators throughout the state and learning about the various natural resource, wildlife, and parks issues happening in their respective districts. 

As such, Sarah’s role necessitates staying informed about legislative developments and trends that could affect CPW’s initiatives. She underscores the importance of relationship-building within CPW, emphasizing how it enables her to maintain a pulse on legislative matters. She collaborates with experts, keeps track of bills, and ensures CPW’s initiatives align with Colorado’s broader political landscape. Although Sarah is not a registered lobbyist, she plays a critical role in maintaining connections and staying informed. Her team collaborates with a registered lobbyist who handles more public interactions and committee meetings during the legislative session. Working in state government, especially in Colorado, operates more autonomously and efficiently.

Additionally, her job is more hands-on and closely connected to local and state initiatives, which Sarah identifies as a gratifying aspect of her position. This year, CPW has a few exciting policy initiatives on its radar, including the reintroduction of the Wolverine (Gulo gulo). Sarah is looking forward to working with experts across CPW, including biologists, wildlife researchers, and legislative experts, to draft a bill and begin stakeholding this initiative to relevant stakeholders across the state. Sarah will get the real taste of her new job starting in January when the Colorado State Legislative session begins, which is only four months of the year (January-May). Sarah anticipates that her most significant challenge is yet to come!