Recent Grads Share Their Insights on Finding Dream Green Jobs

Brooks Winner, Simon Ou, Thai Ha-Ngoc, Drew Trafton and Abriel Ferreira, all 2010 Bowdoin graduates, are living the (green) dream.

The College invited the five alumni back to campus recently to talk with students about their environmental jobs. They addressed an audience at Quinby House, taking turns to describe their unique career paths and “days in the life” before opening up the floor to questions.

Trafton began by describing the pool of projects he works on as Associate Analyst/Engineer at GDS Associates, based in Augusta, Maine. “During a typical work week, I’ll spend 30 to 40 percent of my time in the field working with homeowners and small business owners to identify cost-effective ways to improve energy efficiency, while gathering data to calculate potential energy savings and upfront costs,” Trafton said. “When I return to the office, I’ll often have to do research on the building system being considered and build a model (either in Excel or energy-specific modeling software) to determine whether energy efficient technology would be a good investment for the client.”

Part of excelling in the environmental field requires mastering Excel, the grads concurred. Trafton added that his position also consists of administrative work, the value of which the panelists advised not to underestimate.

Communicating clearly and efficiently not only improves productivity [… it also] makes being productive a gratifying experience.”
—Drew Trafton ’10

Ha-Ngoc works as part of a three-person team to oversee grant processes for the Henry P. Kendall Foundation in Boston. In addition to this work, he manages the development and maintenance of the foundation’s website and serves as an assistant to the executive director and senior program officer.

Close by in Portland, Ferreira manages electricity, natural gas and liquid fuel supplier relationships for Competitive Energy Services’ procurement section. Among her responsibilities, she oversees a pricing team of three and administrative staff of three.

Winner works closely with Maine’s island communities on behalf of the Island Institute, based in Rockland. He assists with programming in energy efficiency, community-owned renewable energy, offshore wind and energy education. “Community energy is a relatively new, emerging field,” Winner said, “but as energy costs rise and communities begin to feel the effects of climate change, the field is growing and attracting more attention. I feel lucky to be on the front lines, helping communities address their energy challenges.”

Ou, on a slightly different beat, recently returned from China where he worked as a Princeton-in-Asia Fellow for the Institute for Sustainable Communities. There, he was able to perform a variety of roles for the U.S.-China Partnership for Climate Action program. “I helped with the business development of our [Environmental, Health and Safety] Academy by doing market research and establishing a client relations management system [and I] was able to manage and coordinate between various parties to successfully pilot an internationally-recognized standard of accounting [greenhouse gas] emissions for a Chinese city. “

The five had various lessons from the business world for fellow Bowdoin students, who consisted of both environmental-studies majors and non-ES majors.

Trafton emphasized the importance of clear, concise communication skills and interpersonal relationships. “While work at Bowdoin and in academia as a whole is a mostly individual pursuit, working as part of team on large-scale projects requires constant interaction with other people,” he said. “Communicating clearly and efficiently not only improves productivity [… it also] makes being productive a gratifying experience.”

Ha-Ngoc assured students that many of the internship and entry-level positions in the nonprofit sector require similar skills regardless of the organization. “This includes project management and organization, outreach and website communications, working with volunteers and public speaking,” he said. “Because of the similarity across the nonprofit sector, building your skills in those areas through experience … will allow you to explore other opportunities even across fields. I went from climate action to land conservation to energy efficiency to sustainable and local food systems using many of the same skills from my previous positions.”

Most of the panelists participated in formal fellowships and internships, such as the Psi Upsilon Fellowship, while at Bowdoin in addition to working with campus groups and taking advantage of environmental jobs on campus.

Green Global Initiatives and the Green Bowdoin Alliance, which helped sponsor the conversation along with Bowdoin Career Planning, the Environmental Studies department and Residential Life, are two groups on campus committed to sustainability.

Story by Melissa Wiley ’13

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