by Edy Rhodes

Point Lobos State Reserve including Whalers Cove

Join our faculty, advisors, and graduates for an in-depth discussion on careers in environmental policy.

Two of our recent MA in International Environmental Policy (IEP) graduates: Kieran Ficken, Sustainability Program Manager at Measure to Improve, and Ella McDougall, Climate Ready Fellow at California State Coastal Conservancy, join Professor Jason Scorse, IEP program chair and Edy Rhodes, IEP career and academic advisor, for an online discussion on careers in environmental policy.

The presentation by Dr. Jeff Langholz that referenced in the discussion is available here: Nine Common Career Paths IEP Graduates Take.

Careers in Environmental Policy

- Well, thank you, everyone, for joining us today. My name is Devin Lueddeke. I’m the director of recruiting here at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. And this is the panel on careers in the international environmental policy field. So thank you again for joining us. Very excited to have you. Before we get started, a few technical notes. For those that have joined some other discussions, this may sound familiar. But in the bottom part of your screen, you’re able to start your video, and feel free to do that. You’re not required to, by any means, but it’s always nice to see who’s joining us today. And then also you’ll see a microphone icon there. We’re gonna leave folks muted for the moment, but we might be able to take that off later on to allow you to ask questions, but we’ll also be utilizing the chat feature a lot to ask questions of the panel as well. So you should see a chat button, and I’ll ask my colleague Nicole just to say a quick hello and welcome in the chat, so you can see where that is. Alright, so without further ado, we’ll go ahead and start with some introductions. And I’ll ask the panelists to introduce themselves. And if we can start with Professor Scorse.

- Yeah, hi, everybody, my name’s Jason Scorse. I chair the International Environmental Policy program. I also direct the Center for the Blue Economy, and I’m a professor as well and I mostly teach courses around economics. So it’s good to see everybody here and I look forward to the discussion.

- Thank you, Jason. Edy?

- Hi, welcome. My name is Edy Rhodes, and I am the career and academic advisor for the International Environmental Policy program. I’m also the Peace Corp Fellows Program coordinator. So if anyone here is an RPCV, be sure to contact me. And I’ve worked with Jason for about 11 years, and it’s great to have you on the call. Thanks.

- Thanks, Edy. Alright, and we also have two of our alumni joining us today, and I’ll ask them to introduce themselves. Ella, would you get us started?

- Sure, hi, everyone. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be surrounded by these people. I was a MIIS IEP alum just last year, graduated in December 2019, and I’m currently a state fellow for the California Sea Grant program. I work for the State Coastal Conservancy doing coastal policy and climate work.

- Thanks so much, Ella. And Kieran.

- Hi, everyone, my name is Kieran Ficken. I graduated from the Environmental Policy program here a year ahead of Ella, so that would have been December of 2018. I currently work here in California for a sustainable agriculture consulting firm. So we work with the folks who grow, pick, pack your produce, and I help them build sustainability programs.

- Excellent. Thank you so much to you both for joining us. So before we get started with the Q and A today, and hopefully this is a time for you to ask questions of the panel about careers in the field and how, at the Middlebury Institute, we help kind of develop your career plan and implement that plan. But we’d like to frame the conversation a little bit as well before we jump into Q and A. So to get us started with that, I’ll invite Edy to go ahead and share her screen, and share a few slides to go over careers in the field.

- [Edy] Thanks, Devin. So this was just, this is hot off the press. It was just put together by Dr. Jeff Langholz, who is an IEP faculty member in the program. And he came up with these nine common career paths that IEP graduates take. And I just, this is a very short overview and I wanna make sure that, that’s not advancing, okay. There we go, thank you. So I don’t know if you can see the whole thing. I’m gonna get rid of this.

- [Devin] Looks good.

- [Edy] It looks good? Okay.

- [Devin] Yep.

- [Edy] Okay, there, now I can see the whole thing. I had to hide my panel. So and Jason can speak more to this, but most IEP alumni work in what’s the Policy Stage number four, which is the implementation. So this is a grid that Dr. Langholz came up with to kind of give you a framework of the different sectors that our alumni go into. It is definitely a program where you can go into many different sectors and work, which is, I think, a real beauty of the program. So it’s not advancing, Devin. Okay, there you go, I got it, nevermind. So the first sector is government. So there’s state and local. This is city, county and state agencies. National, so this is, we call them federal agencies but alumni might be working in other countries in the government as well. International, or IGOs, those are like World Bank and UN. So the next would be nonprofits. So those are local and state NGOs. So the NGOs, there’s something called BINGOs that actually Dr. Jeff Langholz named, which is the big, some of the really big international NGOs, like the Nature Conservancy, for example. There’s also the corporate, also known as the private sector. So there’s consulting, a lot go into consulting. Ella mentioned that she and Kieran both know about consulting. So there’s companies with a mostly national scope, and then there’s the multinational corporations as well. So this is what’s really amazing. These are logos of examples of where the alumni are located. So I’m just gonna have you sort of take it in. I’m not gonna read all of them, but you get the idea of all the different places that MIIS IEP graduates can go into. And then in the nonprofit world, again, some of the big ones, Greenpeace, NRDC. Local and state NGOs, Oceana, Surfrider, I mean, it just goes on and on. It’s really incredible how diverse our alumni population is. And then the last slide, the corporate or the private sector. Some of these employer names may be familiar to you, some of them may not be.

- Thanks for that. And for folks that might be interested in seeing that and taking some time, especially with the logo slide that had so many options, is that available for us to distribute?

- Absolutely. I got the okay to go ahead and share that.

- Okay, perfect. Well, we’ll make sure to do that if people are interested. Alright, so now I’d like to ask Jason to share a few remarks as well about the International Environmental Policy program. And, frankly, I think it’s critical importance right now. For those that are in California on the West Coast, I feel like we’re experiencing the reckoning from climate change in a very firsthand way at the moment, but I’ll let Jason add his thoughts now.

- Yeah, sure. Well, thanks. Thanks, Devin and Edy. So yeah, I mean, unfortunately, the news, as you all see is kind of littered with examples of climate emergency, whether it’s fires or floods or disease spread. And we are addressing all of these, right? The climate emergency is here now. It’s not a thing off in the future. And we have a relatively small timeframe to really get it under control. Now, remember, none of these things are discrete endpoints. It’s not like if we don’t do something by some date thing, it’s the end of the world. It doesn’t work like that. These are kind of continuous problems that are kind of, will ebb and flow in severity depending on our actions. But the scientific consensus here is that we really gotta get things under control in the next 10 to 20 years, right? If we do business as usual without major shifts and kind of the economic transformation we need, humanity’s gonna be in pretty dire straits, and let alone all the other species that we share the planet with that we’re basically driving to extinction. So the the nice thing about this career is you’re gonna be in probably the most consequential generation of human history in terms of sustainability, right? There’s been a lot of ups and downs throughout the last few centuries and millennia of major breakthroughs in humanity, but in terms of really existential kind of survivability and ecological extinctions, this is it. This is the generation. So we’d love for you to join us on this mission. It’s challenging, but there’s also an opportunity side to this, right? Not everything is doom and gloom. I think environmentalists and the movement, we’re really trying to promote a vision of what sustainability looks like that’s appealing, right? It’s easy to be what we’re against. We’re against fossil fuels, we’re against factory farming. We’re against toxic pollution. We’re against lead in water pipes. But we need to be affirmative, too. What’s the vision of the future we want? And I think we’re getting a lot better at doing that. And I think that’s the type of kind of compelling narrative that’ll bring us over the finish line. ‘Cause once people realize that the future we’re presenting them is much better than the current one, we’ll get that mass movement. So that’s a lot of what we do. We address it from every side, economics, politics, communication, writing, analysis, data. We’re trying to promote a real interdisciplinary approach to solving these challenges. And I look forward to working with many of you in the future.

- Great, thank you, Jason. Appreciate that, for sure. So it’s at this point that I’m gonna invite everyone who’s watching to write some of your questions in the chat as well. And we can also move to a more general discussion in a few minutes. But Jason and Edy, to get us started, I’d love to hear a little bit from each of you. And, Jason, I think in your opening remark, you alluded to this, but how has this pandemic impacted job offerings in the environmental fields?

- Yeah, so I mean the first thing I’ll say on the positive, we haven’t seen a big reduction in job opportunities. They’re in a different context, they’re all remote, but we’ve seen actually quite a lot of hiring going on. And, in fact, a lot of money has been coming to environmental NGOs for many years, really ever since the Trump administration started, environmental groups are seeing increases in revenue because of the assault on kind of environmental protections that his administration has been doing on an almost weekly basis. So the environmental community’s pretty well positioned to continue hiring. State and local governments, up until now, have been in a pretty good position. With COVID, their budgets are getting pretty hammered and they still haven’t gotten relief from the federal government. So that’s one that we’re a little concerned about. I think a lot’s gonna depend on the outcome of the November election because I’m sure Democrats will help give aid to state and local governments, and that would help fill in that deficit. And then the private sector is really moving forward very strongly on this stuff. There are so many bad corporate actors, but I think a lot of them are coming around. Even for their own self-interest, they have to get sustainability really front and center. So the affirmative point here is that the pandemic has not significantly eroded job prospects, and people are doing pretty well. And so I’ll let Edy fill in some pieces there. But we’re feeling pretty good about the situation, all things considered.

- Thanks for that, and before we move to Edy, just a quick follow-up, Jason. You mentioned the election and how that might impact things. If the power structure doesn’t change, if the incumbent remains, will that be a negative impact? Or do you think the private sector nonprofits will make up for any kind of missing jobs that would have been in the federal side?

- Yeah, no, I have to be honest here. I think if the Trump regime manages to hold onto power illegally or otherwise, it will be devastating. I think the EPA will be gutted. Environmental, federal stuff will go backwards. The state and local governments probably won’t get the help they need. And unfortunately, environmental positions are one of the first things cut because people gotta keep the schools open and the roads, and the police and the firemen. So environment is not at the top of the list. And the environmental NGOs are strong, but they can’t make up for an all-out assault by the federal government. So, no, I think this is the most important election of our entire lives. And I mean that not up to date. I mean, any of us, even those of you who are 20 years old and I hope you live to 100, I think you will not have a more consequential election even if you live to 100. This is really all the game right here. It’s not like game over if Trump continues, but it’s gonna be quite bad. So I hate to have that negative, but you asked me the question so I’m gonna tell you the truth.

- Yeah, I’m regretting that. I was hoping for a more optimistic answer. But I appreciate the honesty, for sure. Edy, we’ll move to you for your take.

- Yeah, I just wanted to say a couple of things. And first off, I would like to reiterate I’m probably the oldest person in this whole room, and this is the most important election that I have known. And I just wanna reiterate that. This is really important that people vote and get out there, and get involved. So what I wanted to do as far as going back to like internships and jobs, what I saw in the spring, it’s as if many organizations were kind of just, we went into a tailspin, right? Because it was unexpected. And it’s like, it sort of corrected, and it’s like, organizations have kind of figured it out. I actually have not had any alumni come to me saying I lost my job. I’ve had the continuing students, virtually every single person who wanted to get an internship got one this summer and they were all paid. And I’m sort of seeing sort of what Jason is seeing, is that it hasn’t seemed to affected our career fields. I’ve seen it correct, seen other career fields affected, but not so much ours. And I think it does have something to do with the time of our lives and how important this is. So and, yeah, and funding, etcetera. So anyhow, that’s all I wanted to add.

- Alright, thanks for that. And then Kieran and Ella, I don’t know if you had a perspective on this as well about kind of the impact of the pandemic that you’re seeing within your organizations.

- Yeah, so just to reiterate for anyone who maybe came in late, I worked as a consultant in the produce sector on sustainability. And I would say that it echoes a lot of what Jason and Edy have been saying. Back in the spring, we definitely had some clients who took a step back and said we can’t fund this right now. We don’t know how we’re funding lots of things. The shift from people eating in restaurants to people eating at home really changes the processing. Even if the amount of food doesn’t change, exactly what has to happen does change a little bit. And so we did have some clients who stepped back and said we can’t do this right now. But we also had clients who stepped forward and said, oh, now this is really important. Now we really need to step up. And so we had clients who scaled back, but we also had clients who came forward and said we wanna do more, we wanna do it faster. We had them hear from their biggest buyers. So places like Walmart, places like Costco, where all of you shop, and you put pressure on them to have better and more sustainable products, they didn’t step back, right? So the people that I work with are still getting pressure from consumers to do better, because consumers didn’t stop caring. So again, getting involved, getting out there, saying your peace is still really important. And that has, in some ways, kept this all going, too.

- Thanks, Kieran.

- Yeah, I’ll jump in here and say that from my perspective, I’m a fellow, so I have secure funding for a year. But I do work with, for a state agency, and everyone there is taking a 9.23% hit, a two-day furlough, which in the grand scheme of things, yes, it’s a little hard, but we’re still pushing forward with the exact same projects. No one has pulled out. A couple people have said, okay, how do we host public meetings virtually now? And we’ve all had to step in and get a little creative. But there’s definitely been no impact on our work from the pandemic. The interesting spin is that a lot of the work we do is on climate resiliency. And that is something that has been so easily shiftable into recovering from a pandemic or wildfires. You know, that’s a really basic policy skillset, is climate resiliency, looking forward to how we can shift policy that’s more sustainable and resilient for the future impacts of climate to what is currently happening in our economy and our place within the nation, with our local communities. So it’s really something that can be applied to almost any sort of issue like a pandemic or significant wildfire season. It’s a great area to be in right now and it’s not going away. In fact, it’s only rapidly transforming into something that is incredibly important for our future.

- Well, thanks for that. That’s a very, very interesting commentary. And Kieran and Ella, to stick with you, maybe you could tell us a little bit about how you found these positions. I’m just curious to hear from the students that are now alumni what that process looked like.

- Yeah, go ahead, Ella.

- Okay, so I am a Sea Grant fellow, which means I’m funded for one year after graduate school to do a position with a state agency. And actually I heard about this first from Edy. So Edy is absolutely going to be one of your biggest advocates. I remember walking into her office like my first semester at school. And she said, you know, you have a science background and you’re interested in coastal work. You should think about Sea Grant fellowship. And I was like, I don’t really know what that is, but okay. And then a year later, I found myself applying for it, gathering a ton of information on it, and I got the interview, etcetera. And here I am now. And it’s been like, perfect for me. So definitely talk to your career officer, Edy. She’s fantastic. And Jason absolutely also helped me get here. His classes on economics were a very unique spin for this fellowship, looking into coastal resource management, coastal economics, natural resource economics, that is something that the Sea Grant folks were really interested in. It gave me a unique, very policy, very community-oriented advantage to this fellowship. So I think that almost everyone else in my group of fellows is a science research-based Master’s student, but I offered a really unique perspective of having strictly policy and more of the resource management side of things. And it was great. That said, I also took a couple of smaller nonprofit-side summer fellowships, and I worked in local government during my time while I was a student at MIIS. I worked for the city of Santa Cruz. So all of these things kind of snowballed into this current opportunity. And yeah, take advantage of everything that you have at MIIS, your classes, your professors, your fellowships, your internships. All of those small career postings, take ‘em, because they will get you where you need to go.

- Thanks, Ella.

- So like Ella, I also received my internship through the career office. It was something that Edy passed around and posted. We’ve had a number of interns come through our office since then, too. So MIIS has really been great about finding, I think, these connections to either local government or local organizations that have sort of an ongoing need for both interns and then full-time staff members. So I took this position my second semester at MIIS as an intern, and then it just grew and grew until my last semester, I was offered a full-time position starting when I graduated. And so I stuck around. It’s a little bit unusual. I think most students do tend to pick a couple of different things to do. They do a couple of different kinds of internships. This lined up so well with what I wanted to be doing. And because it’s consulting, the work changes a lot, so it made sense for me to sort of stay put. I’d learned our systems, and so it was getting to meet and work with different kinds of clients all the time. So that’s been really helpful. I would also echo what Ella said about looking for those other little opportunities. So my area of sort of special sustainability interest is around food and food systems. And actually through the Languages Study program that I did, which was with Russian, I ended up in Russia studying one of their food systems in the Russian Far East for, through a grant program that one of the Russian professors was able to obtain. So there were a couple of us there doing different kinds of research on the local economy, and mine was all focused on food. And so there are often these sort of smaller opportunities, too, that aren’t necessarily a full internship that you’re gonna do all summer or a fellowship. And those are definitely things to be watching for, either from the Career office or from your other faculty members. Because these things do just sort of pop up.

- Great, Kieran, thanks for that. So, Edy, you got a couple shoutouts in those comments about the work that you do. So this might be a good opportunity then to talk a little bit more about how MIIS and maybe specifically the Center for Advising Career Services help students with this kind of career search.

- Yeah, so we pretty much start from day one to work with you on your career management. It’s like a new student orientation, we do a lot of work. We do assessments to get you going. And then we work with you both academically and career. So this is the way that we can customize your classes, your activities. The more that you meet with us, the more we can help you customize. And so we’re in your camp from day one and we work on career management from day one. I will say that there’s a lot of opportunities get sent to us. People know that we have a talent pool with the Middlebury Institute. So and we have also our niches of pockets in the career fields where people reach out to us. We have a Career Management class that we offer that is free of charge. It’s just a benefit to you. We have used Handshake. Some of you may actually have already used Handshake. It’s pretty much out there in the world now with a lot of universities. And I keep in touch with alumni as well. I have a list, that I send a job list out after you graduate so that you can stay on top of some of the positions that are really better suited for alumni. So it’s just, we’re constantly working with you. And you can actually meet with any and all of the advisors. You don’t have to just meet with me. Like if you’re interested in international development, you can meet with Scott Webb. You know, it’s just, if you’re interested in security issues, you can meet with Elizabeth Bone. So it’s like we’re all here in your camp supporting you in your career development.

- Thanks, Edy. Jason, actually we received a few different questions via email in advance of this from students I think in the audience, so I’m gonna get to some of those in just a moment. But a segue question might be, how does the International Environmental Policy program adapt to what the faculty and advisors see as the biggest kind of career needs or career fields that are gonna be emerging? Are you able to do that in the curriculum? And does that inform the specializations that you offer?

- Yeah, yeah, good question. Yeah, I think we’re probably one of the most nimble and adaptable programs out there. I think that’s actually one of our advantages. You know, we don’t quite have the breadth of faculty as a Duke or a Yale where we have 30 full-time professors. But we have a pretty nice cadre of adjuncts, 10 to 15 adjuncts a year, plus the professors on staff and the Environmental Policy program, plus the ones in development, security that do related topics. And we’re continually modifying and tweaking and trying new things. And so the curriculum is continually evolving. The curriculum is a lot different than it was five, 10, 15 years ago when I first started. To give you an example, let’s say in the last three years to five years, we’ve been building in a lot more behavior design principles. So it turns out that kind of behavioral economics and kind of framing of issues, and trying to get people to change habits on a microlevel in institutions. Really interesting stuff, very cutting edge. We’ve brought that in. We’ve been trying to bring in more social justice into the program. And then with all the racial protests this year really kind of bringing that to the fore, we’ve decided to get a lot more explicit about an anti-racism aspect of the curriculum. And so just even some small things we did this year for our speaker series. We bring in about 30 people a year for just kind of lecture series that are not directly attached to classes. And we’re making them much, much more diverse. We used to rely on the people on our networks, the people in the community. Especially now that things are on Zoom, we’re bringing in people from the Caribbean and Africa, and Latin America and Asia, and we’re having a much more diverse offering. And we did that explicitly, because we know we really wanna step up on that front. So I think that’s probably one of our greatest advantages is that we’re always out front and we’re very nimble. A lot of big institutions, you know, they have to go through committees and year-long processes to add a new class. We don’t have to do that. We can do things, we can turn on a dime. We wanna do it sensibly, and we’re not just kinda randomly trying new things, but we do adapt very quickly.

- Thanks, Jason. And just can you remind the audience of the specializations within the program and why those were chosen?

- Sure, sure. So I’ll start with the one that I kind of officiate, which is the Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. The reason for that is we’ve always had people interested in marine policy. We’re in Monterey, we’re really in the center of kind of marine issues and advocacy in the country. So that was a natural fit. And then when about 10 years ago, we got funding to start the Center for the Blue Economy, we decided to create enough fish, you know, a specialization focused on that instead of just a couple classes. So that’s been a real big strength. If anyone’s interested in knowing more about that, I’d be happy to follow-on offline with them. The Natural Resource Policy and Management is more your traditional kind of terrestrial conservation. Jeff Langholz, who made those slides earlier, he’s the kind of official adviser of that. And that’s everything from sustainable ag, sustainable forestry, protected areas, policy. So it’s more what people think of as traditional kind of environmental pursuits. But Jeff has a really nice take on it, and we bring in a lot of private sector stuff and interesting little pieces of software. And he’s focused a lot on climate adaptation in these kinds of fields as well. And then the sustainability management is kind of, it’s adapted, this is actually something that’s changed a lot over the years. But we really wanted to have something that could speak to kind of institutional change, whether it’s corporate sector or even NGO sector. And so changing institutions to make them more sustainable from within, sustainable supply chains, these kind of larger trends in the world that we see. We wanted to make sure that we had that represented. And then finally, back to the kind of adaptation question, we added a new specialization just two years ago, which is the Intercultural Competence. And the reason we did this is cause people were really finding these classes really, really valuable. And we realized that they’re really good for helping kind of communicate across different power dynamics. There’s a real big focus on social justice in this specialization. And we thought that people, especially who wanna focus on stakeholder engagement and communication, this could be really an advocacy. This could be a really powerful one. So we added that fourth one just a couple years ago. So that’s a quick overview.

- Excellent, thank you so much for that. I think that was really helpful. So just to go back to our alumni, Kieran and Ella, I had a couple of questions for you. First, if you could think back to prior to the Middlebury Institute. What were the key issues top-of-mind that made you choose this field? And then what was it about the Middlebury Institute specifically that made you apply and ultimately enroll? And Ella, it looks like you’re unmuted so I’ll let you start.

- Okay, sure. So prior to Middlebury Institute, I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and I served in Peru during 2016 when there was a devastating El Nino year. And during this time, there was a huge environmental disaster. There were massive amounts of landslides throughout the city. The internal infrastructure was absolutely completely devastated. The whole country shut down and actually most of the Peace Corps in Peru was evacuated. A lot of people, actually, there were like towns just wiped out in Peru. And I watched, my host family and my community thankfully was higher up in the mountains. But we knew, our cousin, my host family’s cousins and aunts and uncles were all along the coast. And so we heard these tragic stories of people really suffering, and it became very clear that this was an impact of climate change. Not everybody in rural Peru could understand that, but that was pretty evident to me. And so I came home and I decided I needed to apply my interest in, I had a background in estuarian research but I wanted to switch to the policy side. I wanted to look at how to manage coastlines so that they would be resilient to issues like this, and how, so that people could continue to access beaches, and so that we could do community-based ecological management. And so I looked for a place that would allow me to interface the science background that I had with policy management. And I knew that I needed to gain a lot of other different skills, like I needed to understand resource management, economics, sustainability. And I found the Center for the Blue Economy through another RPCV who was enrolling in graduate school at MIIS. And I decided to give it a shot. And I heard about the curriculum, talked to a couple people, and I thought it just sounded like such an easy and logical fit for me. So it was almost a no-brainer. And that’s kind of, that’s my background. I forget the other half of the question.

- Yeah, that’s why you chose MIIS and what you were doing before. So I think you hit it on the head. And I should add that we do get a number of RPCVs, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, that applied generally for programs at the Middlebury Institute, particularly in the International Environmental Policy program. So thanks for highlighting that, Ella, appreciate that. So Kieran, a little bit about your story.

- Yeah, absolutely. So I came to MIIS with an environmental background which I had done my undergrad in. I came with a strong interest in food systems, and I had done some research on coffee and other commodities, but I also came with some sort of interesting international work. I had done a Fulbright in Belarus, which is in the news again, not for great reasons, but speaking of international politics. So I was coming with sort of this diverse set of sort of unconnected skills. I had this environmental piece, I had this international work, I wanted to be in the private sector. I didn’t quite think that I had the communication piece down. And so that was really something I was looking for when I was looking at graduate programs, was some way to tie together, not just the policy side and not just the science side that I had, and not just the international piece, but how do all of those things come in together so that you can actually get all of your stakeholders on the same page. And so Middlebury Institute was one of the few places that when I talked to folks, when I talked to recruiters, when I talked to alumni, I had a friend who had just finished the program that I was applying to, it didn’t sound like they had siloed the information. It didn’t sound like there were people who worked on this issue and people who worked here, people who worked here. It really felt like people were looking at things and saying, okay, there is a systemic kind of question. We need to talk about these things on a broader scale. When we talk about sustainability, we’re not just talking about the environment either. We also need to think about the development side. We also need to think about the economic side of this. So when I started having those conversations with faculty, with recruiters, with alumni of the program, that’s when I was like, yeah, this is the right place. This is what’s gonna help me bring all of these different experiences I’ve had together into the kind of communication skills that I’m really gonna need to be effective in that sector.

- Perfect, thanks for that. And I’m glad that you mentioned that cross-disciplinary piece. And Edy, I was wondering if you could just share, is that common for students within the International Environmental Policy program to take courses from some of the other degrees that focus on development or security, etcetera? Can you speak to that a little bit?

- Absolutely, and it goes back to what I was talking about, about customizing your academic and career plan, is that you absolutely can take classes in some of the other programs. It’s a really nice aspect of this program. You have enough electives that you can do that. You also, we allow four credits of audit each semester. So those are free credits. I don’t wanna go into the weeds about that, but in just saying that you have some additional credits to explore other programs, and yeah, absolutely. I mean, we encourage it. We encourage you doing that, and take advantage of all the other programs that are at MIIS.

- Yeah, thanks for that. And then Jason, both Kieran and Ella mentioned having this kinda strong background in science, but also looking at, well, communication is a skill and that was highlighted in the chat, but also policy. And often we get prospective students that are trying to decide between a program that’s more kinda hard science, quote, unquote, whether that’s a marine bio program, oceanography, etcetera, and our program, which is more policy-oriented. Can you talk about kind of what factors someone should be considering if they’re weighing those two types of programs?

- Sure, sure. The way I like to categorize is kind of social science versus natural science. There’s this kinda weird bias against social science so it’s not hard or soft, but social science versus natural science. And we are predominantly a social science program. So it’s still very rigorous and there’s a lot that goes into doing good social science. But we’re probably about 80% social science, 20% natural science. And a lot of other programs are about 50/50. It really depends on what you wanna do. You know, if you really wanna work on the policy development, the advocacy, the communications, the stakeholder engagement, project management, we think our skills are really well-suited for that. If you really love being in labs and you wanna continue that and you just loved your undergrad science, natural science degree, and you don’t wanna lose that, you might feel a little of that missing if you came to our program. So it’s really what your emphasis is. As we saw earlier, our students get great jobs, they’re doing amazing things. It’s just really personal preference if you want that natural science and if you see yourself maybe working in a lab or working more on toxicology, or science of conservation, more on that. Because our students really are very, very policy kind of management-focused.

- Okay, excellent. Thank you so much for that. And then there’s a couple more questions that I’d like to ask for sure. But I’m also gonna take off kind of everyone off mute or give you the ability to unmute yourselves if you’d like to jump in and have a more informal conversation for the final minutes of this as well. So I’ll go ahead and change that setting. So feel free to unmute yourself and ask a question if you have it. But I was wondering, Edy, before we do that, if you could talk a little bit about job prospects for international students in the program and what that looks like. And then also some might not be aware of the STEM designation that this program has and the effect that that can have for job prospects as well.

- Right, so we are a designated STEM program. There’s actually two at MIIS and we’re working on a third one as well. But so that means that for international students, that once you graduate, you have technically up to three years that you can work in the United States because we are a STEM designated program. So it’s a huge benefit and it makes you much more attractive to domestic U.S. employers. And there’s, after your first year, you can work off campus, just like any other student, as long as it’s related to your curriculum, to your program that you’re pursuing. And I see international students getting great internships. And I will say that recently in this climate, it has been a little harder, particularly with COVID-19, but like I said, I see this correction happening. I think there was a lot of fear involved, like oh, we don’t know how we’re gonna deal with this. But I see that it’s sort of shifting again. And I just helped an international student just get a great position with a consulting firm this last summer. So it’s just, there’s plenty of opportunities and international candidates are very attractive.

- Thanks, Edy, I appreciate that. And another question that we receive often is, if this seems like it has a very professional orientation, this program, and I think that’s certainly the case. But some students do wanna pursue a career in academia and focus on academic research. So for that type of student, Jason, what are your thoughts?

- Yeah, so if you wanna do academic research, you pretty much need a PhD. And we’ve had a couple students go from here to a PhD program and they’ve been quite successful. We had someone go to Duke, University of Arizona, University of Maryland, University of Wisconsin. But that being said, I’m gonna be honest. If you really wanna do a PhD, you might wanna just skip right to that and try to go directly to a PhD if you can get in. It’s hard to get in, but if you can do that, you might as well if you know that’s what you’re gonna wanna do. I had been out of school for a long time and I wanna get a Master’s before my PhD, but that was ‘cause, again, ‘cause I’d been out of school for almost a decade. So it really depends on if you have good grades and good letters of ref from your undergraduate, try to get into a PhD directly, is what I would recommend.

- Great, thank you for that. A question has come in from the audience in the chat. And, Jason, maybe you can lead us off with this. But how does an MA in international environmental policy at Middlebury compare with an MS in environmental policy offered by many universities in the U.S.?

- Yeah, so the MS is mostly because, again, that natural science piece. So the ones that are MS tend to have, you know, they’re gonna have more biology, chemistry, toxicology, those kinda classes. We haven’t found any negative impact in the job market. Again, our students do incredibly well on the job market and they’re not gonna be applying for the jobs that are looking for people with a more graduate level biology background, right? So there’s a self-selection process, but our program is quite rigorous and our students do great in the kind of policy and project management and resource management fields. And it’s just really your preference. Do you wanna take more biology classes and toxicology, and chemistry and ecology classes, or do you really wanna focus on policy and economics, and GIS and that kinda stuff?

- Great, thank you. Kieran and Ella, since you’re on the front lines in your organization, I’m curious, and this might be something that you learned at the Middlebury Institute, maybe it’s something that you had to learn after you graduated or you just knew beforehand, but what would you say the kind of skills that you were most thankful to have or acquire, most useful in your current roles are? And so by way of advice, what would you recommend that students getting into the field of environmental policy know?

- Yeah, so I think that one thing I would advise students to think about going in is what they have a background in already and what maybe they didn’t wanna do in their undergrad ‘cause they didn’t. So if you shied away from a statistics course in your undergrad ‘cause you’re really not good at that, you really should take one as a graduate student. Because how you interpret statistics is everything when it comes to a policy background. If you can’t read the analysis that someone is doing for you, or you don’t know how to do it yourself, that’s gonna be a big handicap for you. I would say, too, that the more breadth of tools that you can use the better. If you can get in a GIS class, if you can take some upper-level analysis courses, too. I know that the program requires at least one, but you can usually pick from a couple. And so if you can pick up a couple of different tools or a couple of different ways of looking at problems, that’s really gonna be to your benefit because it’s not a one size fits all. It’s good to get in like GIS and get that tool, but if you don’t feel comfortable with other kinds of analysis, this would be a really good time to sort of dive in and get more comfortable, because it’s gonna keep coming up.

- Thank you.

- Yeah, I will piggyback off of what Kieran said. I think that you get a lot of communications and writing skills, and a lot of introduction into project management, not introduction, you go pretty deep into that. But then you also have, or I also took advantage of the really like hard skills and tools that MIIS offered. So research and data analysis. If you say that to a potential employer, they love that. Especially if you don’t have an MS, necessarily and you didn’t do thesis about whatever, ecology or something, still knowing how to do research, data analysis, GIS is huge. And then also my Spanish actually. I’m fluent in Spanish and I didn’t really intend for that to become a big piece of my career. And honestly, to this day, I haven’t used it a ton. I use it a little bit in the city of Santa Cruz. But being able to say, yeah, sure, I can work in this for the state of California, which obviously has a huge Spanish-speaking population, and I can help you take care of those translations interpretations, they love it. And that has been really fantastic. Almost as, you know they say that GIS gives you a 10K boost in your value. I would say that Spanish also gives you a 10K boost in your career and in your salary, but value. So yeah.

- Alright, that’s great to know, for sure. So before we begin closing for the panel, I’ll also ask kind of general advice questions for the audience to consider both in terms of considerations of the degree, but also this career field, what people should be thinking about. Jason, I think you may have seen that question come in about the compare and contrast for MIIS in the chats, but that might be something that requires a longer answer so we can address that individually. But in terms of advice as kind of closing thoughts for this, or recommendations for someone considering a career in environmental policy and then specifically considering this degree, what thoughts do you have? And we just heard from Kieran and Ella a little bit about the skills, so maybe I’ll ask Jason to start off with some general thoughts.

- Yeah, I think, well, first of all, those of you who are participating in this, you’re doing the right thing, which is to just inform yourself as much as possible, right? Graduate school is, it’s a big investment both of money and time, which are interchangeable. And so you really wanna make sure that you find the right program. Our competitor schools have great programs for certain things and we do a lot of things really well ourselves, and you just wanna find the right fit. And so the best way is to talk to alumni, talk to current students. You’re gonna get perspectives that faculty won’t give you, but I think you’ll get the full spectrum. And I think that’s what you should do. Just do the investigation. We want people who are coming here who really feel like they’ve done the research and they really figured out like this is the right fit. It has all the key pieces that’s gonna really be satisfying for you for your career. So I would just, again, say, make an appointment with Edy to make another appointment with me, and I can get into more detail. Reach out to Lou Barr, Jeff Langholz. Reach out when you talk to Edy, ask about other alumni that you can speak to. Ask if you can speak to current students. So for the programs that really are your top choices, just get to know them really well. We used to be able to say you could come and visit and sit in on classes. That’s obviously not happening, but we might have some opportunity for you to sit in on virtual classes to ask about that. And then, finally, our speaker series, which maybe Edy or Devin, you can put the link on, or I can do it in the chat. These are open to the public, completely free, so you can go in on those any time. And just inform yourselves. I think that’s the absolute best thing. Cause it’s tricky from just reading a website to know what a program, the real details are.

- Great, and then before we move to others on the same question, Jason, just to stick with you for a moment, we had a couple questions come in, in the chat. And I’ll group them kind of where it’ll be two parts. But for someone who doesn’t have a background in environmental science or statistics, etcetera, is this still a program that they can enroll in and consider? And also, on a unrelated note, but generally about background, how much does age matter in terms of entering this program and then the career prospects afterwards?

- Yeah, yeah. So talking about the age one, we have a full spectrum of age. We’ve had people who, it’s like they’re in their fifties or sixties. We had one woman who said I put all my kids through college and worked my ass off for them, and now I wanna go to school and do what I’ve been wanting to do. And she had a great time and has had a productive career. A number of people like that. Most of our students are a few years out of school, they’ve been in the workforce or they’ve been in the Peace Corps. And so that kind of mid to late 20s is kind of the median age. But I think it’s great to have people of all age cohorts. It makes it a richer atmosphere, and everyone’s got something to contribute. I was older when I went to school and I felt pretty good about it. And so I think that’s fine. What was the first part of the question, Devin?

- About not having a science background or a statistics background.

- Yeah, so that’s not a problem. I mean, look, there’s no question that if you have an ecology background or a marine biology background that can be helpful, but we’ve designed the program so if you were a Spanish major or a politics major, you can come in and we give you what you need to get up to speed by the time you graduate, right? So there’s no prerequisites. We’ve structured the program to get everybody up to speed. And then if you have some of the stuff that we offer, you can waive out of those classes and take extra electives. So that’s the way we’ve structured the program.

- Great, thank you so much. Alright, so to loop back to what will be the final questions, if there’s additional questions, I see them continuing to come in, we’ll put contact information in the chat so you can email us with those as well. But in terms of words of advice to close things out, Edy, do you have any thoughts for students considering this field or this program?

- Well, I just kinda want to reiterate what Jason said, is that take your time, really investigate. I think it’s really important to do that. I have to put my career counseling hat on. Do some assessment about where you are right now, what’s important to you, what skills do you want to develop, what do you really wanna do with your life. So I would take some time and really do the research, and make sure this is what you would really wanna do. And we’re here to talk with you whenever you want to engage with us and ask more questions, and we’ll explain. We’ll explain whatever we can to help you make your decision.

- Great, thanks. And then, Kieran?

- Yeah, I think that one thing I would recommend when looking at graduate programs or careers or anything more generally is to remember that the program is focused on what you’re going to come out with. So if you know going in that this could be really challenging, that’s okay. It’s okay for the program to look challenging. It’s okay for it to feel like a stretch. That could be a really good sign, as long as you’re stretching in the direction that you want to be going. So if you’re looking at this and going like, wow, they’re talking about econ, Jason does econ, I’ve never taken an econ class, that could be okay. It could be okay to feel like this is gonna force you to grow in directions that maybe you shied away from before. Graduate school can be a really good opportunity to grow fast, and among other people who are also trying to learn, right? It is a learning experience, so that’s okay. If you see some stuff that’s maybe a little bit scary, that could be good. That could be a good sign.

- Great, thank you, Kieran. Alright, Ella, final word.

- Yeah, thanks. My final word is don’t be afraid to try something new. I also had no background in a lot of the topics that I took classes in at MIIS, and it was challenging, but that’s why your professors are there. Everyone is there to learn. And you are truly with a mix of amazing people. And they come from all over the world, they’re of all ages. They have all sorts of backgrounds. So you’re gonna learn a lot, and also people are gonna learn a lot from you because sometimes you might think that you don’t have a certain background, but really what you’re actually bringing is an alternative perspective to the table. So just because you don’t fit into the box that we’re describing right now doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t be an amazing addition to the MIIS crew, because the diversity is what makes us really interesting. So keep that in mind. And, like Jason said, do your research and figure out where you wanna go. And I think that MIIS would probably be a great option to take you there, but that’s for you to choose.

- Excellent, thanks so much. And on that note, we’ll go ahead and close down this discussion. Thanks to our panelists for dropping your contact information into the chat. I certainly appreciate that. And just so people know, we will be continuing with discussions throughout the fall semester. The next one coming up is October 2, which is focused for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. So I think Ella was one of our Coverdale fellows. So it’s talking about life after Peace Corps and how to kind of translate that experience into success in graduate school and success in your career as well. But we really appreciate everyone’s time. I hope you have a great rest of your day or evening or morning, depending on where you’re joining from. Thanks so much.

For More Information

Edy Rhodes
edy.rhodes@miis.edu
(831) 647-4627

Community Career Fair Goes Virtual

by Bryce Craft

Our annual fall Community Career Fair—held virtually this year for the first time—was a success. Nearly two dozen employers participated and the virtual format allowed for more individual contact between employers and potential recruits.