Cultivating Partnerships: Pest Control and The Use of Integrated Pest Management on Small Farms in San Joaquin County, California (MS ’97)
What have you been working on recently that most excites you? Please describe your work.
In 2018, I was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates, and my first legislative session took place in early 2019. I serve on the House Energy Committee, among others. This is a challenging time for West Virginia because the coal industry is in sharp decline, impacting families, communities, and local and state governments that have been so dependent on the industry for decades. I’m able to use much that I learned at ERG to bring a fresh perspective to many of the debates in the Legislature. These include issues like tax reductions to support the coal industry, changes to state water quality standards, and my bill, the Modern Jobs (MoJo) Act—which will allow retail sale of solar electricity, so long as the solar arrays are located on former coal mines.
What were you doing before ERG? What was your background?
Before ERG, I earned a B.S. in Computer Science and Engineering at M.I.T. Then I worked at Tellus Institute/Stockholm Environment Institute-Boston, where I wrote and applied computer tools for strategic water and energy planning. It was a great job that allowed me to travel across sub-Saharan Africa and to China and Egypt.
What brought you to ERG? Why did you choose ERG and what made it unique for you?
As I learned more about water and energy issues through my work, I decided that I would benefit from more formal coursework. I applied to ERG because of its reputation as the best interdisciplinary program in the country and has such wonderful professors and students.
What was your ERG experience like? Any stories or anecdotes you’d like to share?
I learned a huge amount at ERG and benefited from mentorship from several professors. I also built relationships with other students that I still maintain.
What was your career trajectory like after ERG? What were your biggest challenges and successes?
After ERG, I moved to West Virginia (in 1997). I started up an environmental consulting company called Downstream Strategies, which has grown over the last couple of decades to the 13-person company that we have today. One huge challenge was learning how to start and grow a company—I didn’t learn that at ERG. But my time at ERG set me up for a successful consulting career with nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and attorneys.
What lessons, experiences, or opportunities from your time at ERG have you found to be most valuable in your career?
The interdisciplinary nature of ERG has been very valuable, because as a consultant, it sets me (and my company) apart from many of our competitors that fall more strictly into standard disciplines. We often get hired for projects that are different than any we’ve done in the past. It also keeps my work interesting. One day I may be analyzing energy policy, and the next day I may be collecting water samples.
What are you most excited about in the environment/energy space today? What gives you hope?
As a legislator, West Virginia is a challenging place to participate in the environment/energy space. The state has historically relied almost exclusively on coal for electricity generation, and even today, more than 90 percent of electricity is generated from coal. State policies addressing climate change are nonexistent. When I mentioned the phrase “climate change” during a House floor debate related to coal tax reductions, I was told it was the first time the phrase was mentioned during a floor debate in people’s memories. Despite the challenges, I’m excited to be part of a growing number of legislators who recognize the urgent need to diversify the state’s energy economy in order to create new economy jobs as the coal industry declines—and to help address climate change.
What advice do you have for ERG students? What can they expect at ERG and after they graduate? How can they make the most of their time at ERG?
Take advantage of your time at ERG to build relationships with faculty, staff, and other students, and stay in touch after you graduate. Relationships matter as you move through your career.