Panelists discuss green and sustainable jobs

By SABRINA ABRAMS and KATERINA FRYE | February 21, 2019

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COURTESY OF SABRINA ABRAMS The career centered hosted a panel who discussed jobs in the sustainability sector.

The Career Center hosted a series of events showcasing and promoting careers in the nonprofit sector last week. Aimed at exposing students to opportunities in the nonprofit and environmental industries, the Nonprofit Career Week included a Connecting Green Jobs panel and a Careers with a Cause employment fair.

The Green Jobs Panel, which took place on Feb. 13, was co-sponsored by JHU Connecting Green, a student group that aims to help students network and find green and sustainable jobs. The panel included three professionals who work on sustainability in Maryland. 

The first speaker, Casey Merbler, works with the Chesapeake Conservation Corps. Designed to train and provide funding for students interested in pursuing leadership careers in sustainability, the Corps works with organizations committed to preserving natural resources. 

Merbler credits the Corps with launching her career in sustainability. To assist students interested in pursuing green careers, the Chesapeake Conservation Corps offers grants and leadership opportunities. Students receive a living stipend when they sign up for a year-long project. Merbler emphasized that those interested in serving the environment should begin locally. She cited instances in Baltimore’s recent past when the city passed legislation that would benefit the environment.

“Look locally, what’s happening right here in Baltimore City,” she said. “Local nonprofits, local legislators, ban on polystyrene — there’s tons of hope. You just have to look for it locally.”

Merbler gave examples of organizations the Corps has worked with, including the Healthy Harbor Initiative at the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, a project dedicated to making the Baltimore Harbor swimmable and fishable. 

Merbler, who manages the project, spoke about the Inner Harbor trash wheel that has helped clean up the harbor. The wheel, or “Mr. Trash Wheel,” is a local invention which has collected over 11 million cigarette butts and 900,000 styrofoam containers and plastic bottles since 2014. Propelled by its success, Merbler explained that the Corps has built an additional three trash wheels to protect the water of Chesapeake Bay. 

She noted that although working in sustainability requires hard work for minimal compensation, the work is personally enriching. She encouraged students looking to work in the field to focus on networking. Merbler highlighted that Hopkins alums can serve as effective resources for those unsure where to begin. 

“Really take advantage of the Hopkins network. Look where people are working,” Merbler said. “Even small windows of time can give you an idea of what you want to do.”

The next speaker, Mark Cameron, works as a section chief for Watershed Planning. He noted that his work integrates environmental and governmental industries. He collaborates with a variety of agencies to improve local water sources. 

His experience, Cameron explained, has taught him that careers in sustainability are not explicitly defined and are ever-evolving.

“Sustainability has gotten to a point where it’s not necessarily, ‘here are the 10 jobs you do in sustainability.’ There are a wealth of jobs and careers that incorporate sustainability or that you can bring sustainability into,” he said. “Think outside of what you may consider green careers.” 

The next speaker, Hopkins class of 2013 graduate Julianne Bolton, who works as a sustainability engineer in Columbia, Md., echoed this sentiment. According to Bolton, students who discover and create career opportunities in sustainability need to remain inventive and creative.

She gave audience members advice on how to make the best possible impression while networking, emphasizing the necessity of making connections with peers and alumni.

“People love talking about what they do and helping out and paying it forward. Putting yourself out there is the first step,” Bolton said.

Bolton emphasized the importance of job experience and how staying updated with the latest news on sustainability can help students to secure an internship. 

Panel moderator and Professor of Environmental Health and Engineering Ben Hobbs agreed, adding that students who are proactive about learning additional skills would be stronger candidates in the sustainability field.

“The next problem we work on is probably nothing like what you studied in college. You need to be adaptable — try learning things on your own,” Hobbs said.

Sophomore Nicole Hada, who works with Connecting Green, explained that this is the eighth annual panel, though it recently changed its name from Green Jobs to Connecting Green. She said that the event aims to consolidate different companies into one location to facilitate networking.

“Being able to listen to the panelists and hear their perspectives on the green and sustainability fields and the fact that they were from three different sectors of sustainability was really interesting,” she said. “This year we’re taking more of an initiative to connect with student groups... and create more of a sustainability field through Hopkins because out of other colleges and universities, Hopkins lacks the initiative and sustainability aspect on campus.” 

During the panel, Bolton echoed a common concern regarding the limited financial support available for sustainability initiatives but emphasized that with successful networking, students could take the first step in developing their careers. 

To enable students to make useful connections, the Career Center hosted the Careers with a Cause Employment Fair on Thursday, Feb. 14. At the fair, students met with environmental firms and explored jobs in the nonprofit sectors. 

In addition to the fair, the Career Center offers a grant through its online portal Handshake to help connect students with funding to pursue nonprofit work. Career Center Director of Employer and Market Development Alayna Hayes explained that there are a variety of companies invited to the nonprofit fair.

“This one is particularly around those that are in the nonprofit sector, and we open it up to a number of different employers,” Hayes said. 

The fair featured representatives from the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), Teach for America (TfA) and Bike & Build, among other nonprofit organizations.

Sophomore Elizabeth Raphael attended the event because she was particularly interested in working with TfA and the BMA.

“It’s helpful if you are already interested in a couple organizations, but you have to kind of know what you want already,” Raphael said. 

Sophomore Xabier McAuley felt that while the fair was helpful in searching for internship and job opportunities, it also exposed him to some other programs that he had not initially considered. 

“I went to the fair just to check out what companies and organizations were there that I could talk to. I ended up not really seeing any that interested me particularly, but I found out some cool-sounding nonprofit summer programs,” McAuley said.

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