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Wrapping up 2023

There have been so many instances this year where life has not felt real. A few weeks ago, I sat in on my first meeting as a representative for state and local government for the EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC). It was as crazy to write that statement as it was to experience. At the beginning of this year, I decided to throw my name in the hat after multiple people encouraged me to apply. After browsing the website, looking through the member bios, and reading about their lengthy careers and multiple accolades, I felt like I was not the type of person they were looking for. Though I had my doubts, the encouragement to apply was strong, so I decided to move forward anyway. Now, being on the other side of the table around issues that I have talked about and dedicated entire videos and podcast episodes about feels surreal. It feels like everything I have worked for set me up for this moment, and knowing that I am still early in my career it makes me wonder where this will take me.

Why does being on this council mean so much to me? When I was in college, my mindset was that I wanted to change the world. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but blind confidence told me that if I could be in the right room with the right people, I could change the way things were. I have Dr. Kolmes to thank for changing my life. I was blessed enough to have a class with him every semester I was at UP beginning in the spring of 2016. His lectures awakened something in me that I can't describe. The more I learned from his class, the more inspired I became to teach others about what was going on in the world and figure out a way to make science more accessible. I had already been passionate about climate change and environmental protection, but learning more about these issues and how we as humans contribute to the problem made me angry in a way that made me want to take action. I could not accept that we had chosen to create such a horrible world where we were perpetuating harm through what I thought at the time were broken systems. When I graduated college, I had a vision and direction but no destination. I was determined to make an impact. In 2018, on the heels of my graduation, I witnessed history as the then-youngest member of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was elected to serve New York's 14th district. I watched her speak, and it inspired me. I wanted to do what she was doing: being the change, inspiring others through her words, and standing up to powerful people. I used to watch videos of her testimonies speaking in Congress, wondering what I needed to do to learn to speak with that confidence and inflection. Nothing about the state of the world made me want to be in Congress, and the idea of running for office still scares me, but I wanted to figure out what kind of job I could do where I could be a beacon of change. At this point in my life, I thought somehow GIS and analyzing data was my way in. Leading up to graduation, I had it in my mind that my job was going to be a GIS analyst, and I would continue my YouTube channel as the outlet for educating people about issues I cared about. During my summer internship, I got the advice to apply for fieldwork positions and work my way up to GIS from there, so I applied heavily to those positions for months. It took four months from the time I graduated to when I got my first career job. In hindsight, it may not seem like a lot, but at the time it was an eternity. I still remember during my interview, my boss asked me three times if I was sure I wanted the job, and I was so eager to be employed I said yes rather than questioning why he had asked. I have great memories of this job, though I feel like in the first week, every day was a test to see if I would quit. I remember my first day; I showed up, no allergy medicine in my system, onto a site with so much pollen you could see it in the air, and ticks were falling off trees. After I got home and showered, I sat on the floor with my nose still red and still wheezing, thinking, well, this is what I signed up for. Some days were better than others, and after my coworkers realized I wasn't going to quit, they started being nice to me, so it made things easier. The thing that always got me through the day was knowing that it was not my forever job; it was just the beginning. I remember when I signed up for a mentor through GIS in Action's Emerging Professionals program; the first thing Matt Freid said to me was, "If you want a job, I'll get you a job." I am eternally grateful for him; he was such a catalyst for things I don't even think he fully knew he would be a catalyst for. Before I met him, working for the government was not even a thought in my mind. I can honestly say I would not be where I am today without his support. There is no way to thank him enough for being that bridge.

Before I started at DEQ, I knew every job I had was a temporary stepping stone, so I never put much more effort than what was necessary. But being in a government role, I felt like as people charged with protecting the environment, I needed to be the best version of myself and approach my work with heart because a lot of people would be counting on me. I felt like I was entering a space where I could think about making a difference. Now, having been in this agency for nearly four years, I cannot believe the work I have been able to do. The fact that I was having monthly meetings with the director less than a year into my position and leading conversations about integrating environmental justice into our work in the agency? Leading an agency-wide group of 60 (currently ~109) employees around the agency? Having meetings with agency leadership members and managers on how to implement EJ into their programs? Working to establish an office of social equity with proposed positions? This year I presented at my first conference, conducted in-person listening sessions across the state where we compensated people $100/hr for their participation, gave my first high school career presentation, and my first college guest lecture. Now, the EPA is inviting me to be a representative for state and local government on their national council??? To think exactly five years ago from the day I am writing this, I took my last university final; four years ago, I was planting willow trees north of Portland, almost getting hypothermia because I overslept and forgot my work boots; and today I am an advisor to the EPA Administrator? My life does not feel real. All I can do is say thank you. I am eternally grateful for my family, every teacher, college professor, advisor, mentor, colleague, friend, the EJ Planning group for believing in me, everyone who has ever supported me. I have so much gratitude for you; words will never be enough to express the way I feel, but from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

I love you mom. <3

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