By Anne-Christine Strugnell
When Chloe Ney graduated from UCLA in 2019 with a BA in geography and environmental studies, she was eager to get started on a career in sustainable urban planning.
“Conservation of open space is hugely important,” she says. “By making urban spaces more appealing, sustainable, and better for our physical and mental health, we can reduce the tendency to sprawl and enhance the synergy between nature and the built environment.”
But Chloe found no entry-level opportunities: all the jobs in her preferred field required experience, and despite having completed an internship, she couldn’t get a foot in the door. One of her friends had participated in SEI’s Climate Corps program and urged Chloe to check it out. When she went to the SEI website, one opportunity jumped out for her: a Fellowship with Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) to promote on-campus energy conservation. LACCD has the most aggressive and comprehensive sustainability goals in the California community college system: 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% carbon free by 2040.
“I grew up in LA, and it’s a special place for me,” Chloe says. “And a college campus is a perfect place for an urban planner to get a start, because campuses are like mini cities.” She applied and was selected for the position.
Chloe and her supervisor Aris Hovasapian, Utility Program Manager at LACCD
Pivoting to professional achievement
Just six weeks after Chloe started her Fellowship at LACCD, the office went virtual in response to the pandemic. All the in-person outreach activities she had planned were cancelled. Now what?
Chloe adapted the focus of her Fellowship and rose to the occasion. Her supervisor at LACCD was the Utility Program Manager, and Chloe stepped in to help his team of one, tracking energy usage and identifying opportunities to maximize energy efficiency across the partially shuttered L.A. City College campus. Her work helped the LACCD to save 255,000 kWh and roughly $371,000 during the first six months of the campus’s COVID-19 shut down by working with staff to identify conservation opportunities, including load shifting and repairing or replacing malfunctioning HVAC equipment.
But what to do about her original project, which was to promote on-campus energy conservation? Chloe took her expertise online and created a Virtual Climate Curriculum, which ultimately won the 2020 California Community College Board of Governor’s award for Excellence in Energy and Sustainability. As her main communication tool for the curriculum, Chloe launched a biweekly newsletter about sustainability and climate change, which first went to a handful of contacts and then on to over LACCD’s 14,000 LACCD stakeholders. The distribution list continued to grow as people have added themselves. Chloe also put together a series of talks on climate action and climate justice in SoCal, attended by students, District stakeholders, partner organizations and community members of the general public.
Asked about the highlights of her Fellowship year, Chloe cites the communications program, completion of a greenhouse gas inventory for one of the campuses, plus experience with grant writing and policy work, mentoring and supervising an intern, and working with a wide range of people from students to facilities staff to engineers, professors, and other professionals.
Chloe created video tutorials to teach students how to save energy at home
Getting in on the ground floor
Chloe finished her Fellowship in January 2021 and went on to work on sustainability initiatives for a construction company in LA that helps manage new construction and renovation at all nine LACCD campuses. As their sustainability coordinator, Chloe is immersed in details of data collection for LEED planning and greenhouse gas inventories.
“I’m working with a new team that started just 2 -3 months ago, so this is a great opportunity to get in on ground floor,” Chloe says. “Thanks to my Fellowship experience, I’m ready to make the most of it. I have experience supervising and I’ve perfected my phone and email etiquette to support good working relationships with people very different from me. Now I feel confident working with a wide range of people to get projects done.”
SEI’s award-winning Climate Corps Fellowship program places rising climate professionals in the local government, non-profit, and private sectors to implement year-long climate change resiliency projects. Learn more about becoming a fellow or hosting an emerging professional.
The SEI Team
Environmental education and workforce development experts share stories from the field