Conservation in Washington: A D.C. Career Trek

Right before classes started this spring semester, I spent a few days in Washington, D.C., with 14 other MEM students and a PhD student. We were all participating in a career trek organized by the Duke Conservation Society, a trip intended to introduce us to various conservation organizations in D.C. and to Nicholas School alums. It also provided a chance for networking and learning about different internship and career opportunities. During the course of two days, we visited the offices of Ecology and Environment, World Resources Institute, Defenders of Wildlife and World Wildlife Fund.

Ecology and Environment

Ecology and Environment, Inc. (E&E) is an international environmental consulting firm with a small regional office in Washington. We met with MEM alum Courtney Dohoney and Carl Sadowski, who work in renewable energy development and resiliency planning, respectively. This was a unique opportunity for many of us to get a behind-the-scenes look at environmental consulting, a field in which I personally (up until now) have not truly considered a career. E&E provides a wide range of environmental services, such as planning, environmental assessment, restoration and engineering. Courtney and Carl stressed that since consultants typically work under contract with government agencies, understanding the federal and state environmental regulations is extremely important. Over the years, E&E has hired several MEM graduates, as the interdisciplinary focus and wide range of skills and knowledge we obtain are highly beneficial in this type of work.

World Resources Institute

At World Resources Institute (WRI), we met with Alex Rudee MEM ’18. He described this unique organization as a “think-tank/NGO” or, more jokingly, a “think/do tank.” According to its website, “WRI is a global research organization that turns big ideas into action at the nexus of environment, economic opportunity, and human well-being.” Alex works as a research analyst within WRI’s water program, where he focuses on carbon removal in U.S. forests and agricultural areas. We also heard from other staff members about the Global Restoration Initiative and the Global Forest Watch, a well-known interactive map (at least in the geospatial world) that allows users to explore the state of the worlds’ forests. WRI focuses its work on six sectors—climate, energy, food, forests, water and cities—through economics, finance, governance, and business.

Defenders of Wildlife

Defenders of Wildlife is a mid-sized nonprofit that works at the intersection of science, policy and law to protect and restore imperiled wildlife across the world. In my opinion, the best part about our visit was the inspiring introduction to the organization given by President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark. After previously serving as the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Clark made the switch to the nonprofit sector, giving her a unique perspective, as well as credibility, on environmental policy issues that Defenders challenge on Capitol Hill. She emphasized to our group that we are in the most dangerous time for environmental protections that she has ever experienced and that bold, large-scale action from our generation is desperately needed —so we need to hurry up and graduate (no pressure!)

As someone interested in the intersection between wildlife conservation and technology, I also really enjoyed learning about work being done within the Center for Conservation Innovation (CCI). The CCI uses data, technology and interdisciplinary approaches to improve endangered species conservation in the U.S. They focus on creating tools that make obtaining data easier for other organizations, such as a search engine designed specifically for Endangered Species Act (ESA) documents. What impressed me most about Defenders of Wildlife is that they not only tackle threats to wildlife from all angles, but also aim to be one step ahead in their actions because, as they say, “yesterday’s approaches are inadequate to solve tomorrow’s challenges.”

World Wildlife Fund

Last, but not least, we met with a panel of MEM alums at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) office. I was particularly excited to be back after my internship there this summer on the wildlife team. WWF is arguably the most famous wildlife conservation NGO, known for its large-scale efforts to save charismatic species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers. WWF goes far beyond that, however, with teams that address issues surrounding climate, food, forests, freshwater, oceans and wildlife. The alumni we met represented a diverse group of careers—from sustainable fisheries to forest infrastructure to managing relations with the board of directors. We learned a lot about the work they do and the winding path it often took to get there. We also received a lot of great advice on the internship and job application process into which most of us are starting to dive—from being aware of global trends in our field of interest to not being afraid to say yes to different opportunities, even if they stray away from the strict career path we have in mind.

Standing in front of the World Wildlife Fund building, where I interned last summer.

Final Thoughts

At both these organizations and the Nic School Alumni happy hour, organized by the Office of Development & Alumni Relations, I met several people working on interesting and important conservation issues in the nation’s capital. I would ultimately like to end up working in D.C., so this trip was a really valuable way to learn more about different organizations and the work that they do. It was also a great experience to network with these professionals, as well as with alums who work for an even wider variety of organizations. As I begin the job search, I will certainly keep these organizations in mind, as well as the great advice we received. Most importantly, when I start to stress about finding my dream job, I will remember that the career path is a long journey that often takes you to unexpected places, as evidenced by most of the people we met. I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Current MEM students talk to Shane O’Neal MEM ’18 at the Alumni Happy Hour.
Current and former Nicholas School students network at the Alumni Happy Hour.