RealJobs: Katherine Walsh

My name is Katherine Walsh and I am a 2008 BC alum with a B.A. in Political Science and Environmental Studies. I currently work at the University of California, Berkeley as the Coordinator of The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF). TGIF is a student-fee based sustainability fund that annually awards grants to Cal students, faculty, and staff for their campus sustainability projects. As the TGIF Coordinator, I publicize the availability of roughly $300,000 per year for campus sustainability projects and solicit project proposals from UC Berkeley students, faculty, and staff. I assist the TGIF Grant-Making Committee in selecting grant winners and advise the grant winners throughout completion of their projects. I currently oversee the project leaders of 28 active sustainability projects and we just received the first round of submissions for the 2012 grants cycle. I track and report the progress of the projects to the UC Berkeley community and manage the TGIF budget. Some of my other duties include providing consultation on green fund implementation and best practices to fellow universities and colleges and presenting at regional and national conferences. My position is housed in the Auxiliary that serves the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC). The ASUC is the student government, like UGBC. The ASUC is the only autonomous, 501(c)3 undergraduate student government in the United States. This year, I have two special additional tasks:  I am currently serving as the 2012 Staff Co-Chair for the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability and I am a partner with a local non-profit, Bay Area Green Tours, on BAGT’s 2011 Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund Grant project.

What made you decide upon your current career?

Growing up, my entire daily life focused on academics and sports. Every aspect of life seemed like a competition, from getting the best grades to winning a game. My only other interest was animals, which led me to take some extra science classes in high school. When I was a junior, I had an incredible biology teacher who opened my eyes to environmental science and its connections to public health and justice. I was originally planning to apply to college zoology programs, but began to think I could make a greater impact environmental science programs. I ended up applying to colleges with at least some sort of environmental minor, if not a major, and lots of activities. I ended up choosing BC, mainly at the recommendation of a teacher I greatly admired, and it was the best decision of my life, because BC gave me EcoPledge, UGBC, Appalachia, Pedro Arrupe, and the Office of Sustainability.  EcoPledge and the incredible EcoPledge members would end up having the greatest impact on my future.

One of the best opportunities that came from being a student leader was getting to work with the staff and faculty at BC. So many of our Ecopledge and UGBC accomplishments came from their willingness to sit down at the table with students and figure out how to work together. If you get a chance, connect with the following people:

ODSD, UGBC, Res Life Facilities Management Dining Services Faculty
Kathy Paglia Gina Bellavia Helen Wechsler Laura Hake
Sharon Bloomenstock Gerry Boyle Megan O’Neill Mike Cermak
Karl Bell Dick Range Paul Christensen
George Arey
Chris Darcy

My greatest mentor, Deirdre Manning, the former Director of Sustainability, took a new position at another university. She was the students’ greatest champion in our sustainability efforts, and I still consider her a friend and mentor. Having a faculty or staff member as a mentor can add so much to your college and post-college life. They wouldn’t work at a university if they didn’t care about students. They’ve been where you are at, and they can be your greatest “real life”-educators and supporters.

Deirdre and Katherine – Earth Day 2008

Describe your career path since graduation.

 When I was a senior, I didn’t prepare for post-graduation life. The way I saw it, it was my last chance to be in EcoPledge, Appalachia, and UGBC, and I didn’t make time for applying to jobs or volunteer programs. It ended up working out two years later, but I recommend to current BC seniors to have some sort of one-year post-graduation plan (at least), either grad school, working, volunteering, traveling- something!

I was able to work summer 2008 for the Office of Sustainability, but once September hit, I was unemployed. I (finally!) got my driver’s license (city kid) and volunteered at the 2008 USGBC Conference, but mainly spent my time applying to job after job, receiving rejection after rejection, and losing a LOT of confidence. Even though it was the big low-point for the economy, I can’t help but internalize all the rejections and begin to doubt my skills and abilities, my self-worth. Heck, even Starbucks wouldn’t hire me!

In January 2009, I finally hit jack-pot, or so I thought. I got offered a six-month fellowship to work for Yale’s Office of Sustainability. After a little calculating with my family, I let them discourage me from taking it; that the financial risk of moving to CT, with no health insurance, was too great. One of my few life regrets was not having the courage to take that fellowship. I was too sheltered and let it get the best of me.

Luckily a week later, I ended up getting a special education teaching assistant’s position at a local high school and worked there until June 2010. For summer 2009, I worked as an ecology camp supervisor for friends of Alewife Reservation and for summer 2010 I worked at a special education program at a local elementary school. Over these two years, much of my free time was spent applying to jobs and interviewing. Summer 2010, I started getting better interviews and some offers, one being my current job at Cal.

Looking back at 2008-2010, it is hard to say “I would do this and that differently” because life did work out; I am at a dream job. I also look at all the high school students and elementary students I got to work with and can’t help think “That’s where I was meant to be, those incredible students are who I was supposed to work with”. BUT, I have more admiration for my friends who took risks, didn’t make “financial security” such a priority, went to grad school or did JVC and AmeriCorps, than I do for myself. Life is about learning lessons, and at the very least I got a new type of education out of those two years, and at the very best, I met people who made a lasting impact on my life.

Stay tuned…

For the rest of the week, I will get into more detail about my job and the sustainability projects I coordinate. Right now is an exciting time because we are receiving grant applications for 2012.

I will also be answering the following questions, hoping some of  my answers can help current BC students with their career search.

  • Is there a typical work day? If so, what does it entail?
  • Did you have a career ‘aha’ moment? If so, what triggered it?
  • Is there anything you do that you would have never assumed would be part of your job?
  • Is there any sort of career preparation (graduate degree; internships, etc.) that is vital to your field?
  • Are there any web sites or other resources that students should use if they’re interested in your field?

As we used to say in EcoPledge, “ Peace, Love, & Trees”!

Ecopledge 2008

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