About halfway through my senior year of college, I felt slightly panicked. I was completing a degree in environmental studies and sociology at Rollins College and realized that I had no idea what my next steps were. In this period of uncertainty, I came across the Center for EcoTechnology’s EcoFellowship program. It was the perfect opportunity – the ability to explore my options through data-driven and meaningful projects and work with likeminded, empowered people. Once I began, I learned that the term ‘professional development’ wasn’t just a buzzword that CET used to recruit potential fellows – I actually got to conduct informational interviews, take tours of facilities, and explore passions outside of my direct responsibilities as part of my paid work day. Throughout these past five months, I’ve realized the benefit of the EcoFellowship for my own personal growth and am looking forward to furthering my knowledge and interest in waste reduction in order to solidify my career aspirations.

My role as an EcoFellow

As the Program Operations EcoFellow, I support all of CET’s waste related programs. This primarily includes working on RecyclingWorks, the GREEN TEAM, and Wasted Food Solutions. The best part about my role is that my work changes week by week, if not daily! One day, I will be researching new organizations and organics haulers to expand our regional food waste work, and another day I could be writing a lesson plan to encourage recycling in high schools. Every so often I go out in the field to conduct outreach for businesses and institutions who might benefit from our programs. I’m always creating content for, and managing, RecyclingWorks’ social media presence and get to write blogs on topics I care about for both CET and RecyclingWorks’ websites. Overall, I enjoy my role because I get to help connect people and resources!

What skills have you learned during your fellowship that will help you in future professional endeavors?

As someone who comes from a liberal arts background, I was concerned that I didn’t have enough experience with certain hard skills. I thrive on creative problem solving, but sometimes it helps to have the technical aspects to let you implement what you are brainstorming. I’ve most enjoyed and appreciated the ability to expand upon my creative skills by learning the basics of programs like FinalCut Pro, InDesign, WordPress, and Photoshop. Ultimately, I get to test them out on projects related to what I enjoy – waste!

What is your favorite project you have worked on?

If you know me, you know I love a good map. I’m thrilled to help develop and update a few different internal and external maps during my fellowship. One of my favorites was developing an internal resource for our field staff to better identify the food waste diversion opportunities that exist at a regional scale for businesses they were working with. This project is part of CET’s Wasted Food Solutions, which provides resources and assistance for businesses, institutions, and service providers to help reduce and recover wasted food. To make the map accessible and comprehensive, I got to choose the platform, curate and research food waste outlets, and network with regional food waste stakeholders. As an ongoing project, I’m always on the lookout for new connections and ways to expand our reach and knowledge.

What has been your favorite professional development opportunity?

I’m going to break the rules and list my top two favorite professional development outings because I honestly can’t choose between them. Firstly, through my work with the Program Operations team, I toured a materials recovery facility (MRF) and viewed the process of recyclables going from truck to finished product. Our guide discussed the biggest and most common contaminants and their impact on the overall industry, including worker safety and the commodities market. I’ve also had the opportunity to shadow some of our field staff on-site at businesses who are looking to start and improve food waste diversion programs. For example, it was really interesting to get an up-close look at a country club kitchen and then discuss the potential recommendations unique to their situation. In both cases, these hands-on experiences have helped improve my ability to communicate the importance of engaging in waste reduction behaviors as well as inform me of potential industry applications for my interest in recycling and composting.

Why is this fellowship a unique experience?

As an EcoFellow, I feel like my coworkers and the organization truly care about the work that I do and want to see me grow. My weekly mentor check-ins are full of productive discussions about my personal and professional growth – the entire team will support and provide options for me to work on new projects or learn more about something that CET is already doing. Unlike traditional entry-level positions, I’m getting the opportunity to work on impactful projects up close and in detail. The transparent and encouraging environment at CET has allowed me to understand the value of a collaborative and well-networked community. I’m looking forward to learning and experiencing so much more throughout the rest of my fellowship!

Click here to learn more and apply for the EcoFellowship!