The Center for Global Sustainability co-sponsored a career practitioner panel with the School of Public Policy Environmental Council and the Office of Career Services and Alumni Relations on April 11 in order to provide an opportunity for professionals to share their experiences with undergraduate and graduate students.
The panel included Cara Marcy, Renewable Electricity Analyst with the U.S. Energy Information Administration; James McGarry, Maryland and D.C. Policy Director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network; and Andrew Reighart, an economist with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Marcy shared that she earned a spot in the Presidential Management Fellows Program, which was a “great way” to enter work in the federal government. She met her current boss at a Presidential Management Fellows job fair.
“The key now is to look for the small windows that are open if you’re interested in federal work,” Reighart said. He continued on to say that he applied for 250 federal jobs, and only got one interview. While veteran and returned Peace Corps volunteer status can help give applicants a leg up, networking is not a huge aspect of attaining government work -- but it can be helpful for moving around once in government.
McGarry started out by volunteering with Sierra Club, making regular trips to Annapolis to lobby with them. He wrote four op-eds for The Baltimore Sun while in CGS Director Nate Hultman’s class, and also did some freelance writing. His current boss, Mike Tidwell, recognized his name from his op-eds and offered him part time work at Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
On a typical day, McGarry said he drives from Washington, D.C. to Annapolis to track the status of bills. He said that there are “lots of soft skills that you learn by doing,” including relationship-building, reputation development, stakeholder engagement and in-depth policy knowledge.
“If you’re going into a negotiation room with a potential adversary, you need to know what you’re talking about, or you’ll get steamrolled,” McGarry said.
Reighart said his job as an economist for the EPA involves pulling data from databases to do analysis related to pesticides, “crunching the numbers” in Microsoft Excel, writing up briefing memos, and more. He encouraged students to find other opportunities to branch out from their workloads when time permits, because taking advantage of opportunities could lead to great new roles.
“Knowing how to run a meeting, and keep folks on task, is very helpful,” Reighart said. “Volunteer your time where you can in other areas where you’re interested.”
Marcy said that she is responsible for long-term policy forecasting, near-term briefings, and customer engagement-- which involves responding to phone calls from U.S. citizens with questions.
“Make sure to devote time to keeping up on learning,” Marcy said.