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?
By Lawrie Mankoff
When Alexa Monserret was in high school she engaged in an energy focused summer internship program run by SEI. Monserret now works in new product engineering at Gillig, the second largest bus manufacturer in North America. She focuses on their electric buses, specifically designing the bus structure including the framing for batteries that power these zero emissions vehicles. Alexa recently spoke with us about her green career path following her time with SEI.
Monserret took part in the SEI summer internship program in 2013. This program was made possible through a collaboration between SEI and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), which created paid summer internships that engaged high school students in school energy auditing and efficiency projects. Alexa says that this internship experience prompted her to think about sustainability from a new angle: “I was always interested in sustainability but the internship got me thinking about different ways we can approach that. One thing I remember us talking about is how everyday decisions like what kinds of appliances we use, how energy efficient they are, the way we design homes and infrastructure, and how we harvest those materials all makes an impact.” Learning about how our choices impact the environment led Monserret to think of incorporating a green focus into her future career path. Reflecting on her plans going into college, Monserret said, “With that kind of thinking in mind, I went into a major I was going to go into anyways but with the career focus of trying to find jobs that considered those things.”
By Katie Rogers
David Juarez was a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo when, sitting on a hill overlooking the countryside, he had a vision of himself walking in a solar field. This vision inspired him to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering and interest in renewable energy.
When seeking a career post-college, he was excited to find a fellowship opportunity at the San Mateo Community College district through Climate Corps. He was interviewed by Isaac Knipfing, a former Climate Corps fellow himself. As a fellow, he got to know energy management systems and experienced operations hands-on. “My knowledge of facilities management grew exponentially in my time there,” Juarez reports.
As his fellowship came to an end, the facilities manager from University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), spoke at Climate Corps Facilities training and mentioned they’d be growing their team. SEI worked with UCSF to develop a fellowship position, for which Juarez was a perfect fit.
As a senior fellow, Juarez helped form the energy team at UCSF. He became a full-time employee at UCSF upon completion of his fellowship. Currently, Juarez works on energy and utility projects, such as installing solar at a major hospital in Mission Bay, adding variable frequency drives at another hospital so HVACs are saving as much energy as possible, installing a solenoid valve that saves 500,000 gallons of water each year, and ensuring UCSF sites continue to have power amidst PG&E’s rolling blackouts.
Equitable Green Economy Expert, Vien Truong, Shares Career Advice with Emerging Environmental Professionals
By Hernan Gallo
“My goal in life wasn’t really to escape Oakland; it was to understand the tools that I acquired while I was at Berkeley to bring them back home to Oakland and to begin changing the things that were fundamentally unfair and unjust not only for Oakland, but to cities that look like Oakland” - Vien Truong
Truong serves as the Director of Climate Justice for former presidential candidate Tom Steyer’s political action committee and Principal of her firm, Truong & Associates. She holds a background as a policy expert and strategist on building an equitable green economy. She began her keynote address at the virtual Climate Corps Fellow orientation on September 1st by telling her story. Truong grew up in a family of immigrants from Vietnam who left their home country during times of war. Truong’s family landed in Portland, Oregon prior to moving to Oakland, California where her parents worked low-wage jobs in sweatshops while supporting 11 children. Truong grew to love her community in Oakland and always wanted to build up her hometown through sustainability and equity.
Truong spoke about her in-depth background in climate justice, advocating for community electric van share programs, no-cost solar installations, and her experience at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Of the many lessons she’s learned throughout her career, two of the most important are: “Enter the work with humility and listen to organic intellectuals in the community. People who live in working communities are most proximate to the problems and really fundamentally understand the solutions that will and won’t work better than anyone.”
One of the attendees of the event, Max Jimenez, asked Truong, “What are some challenges you faced when working with different communities? How did you overcome them?” Truong responded, “The hardest part is always remembering who you are and not having to pretend to be something else. Once you’ve got that, I think you’re good. As long as I remember who I am and I wasn’t trying to pretend, I think people understand and see that authenticity.”
Watch Truong’s inspiring keynote address on Youtube
In light of the Fellow orientation being held virtually amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing wildfires across the West, one attendee asked “What do you think is the biggest opportunity to advance climate equity in the next 5 years?” Truong responded,
“We’re gonna be seeing huge investments in climate equity in the next five years. We have commitments that we’re hearing from the presidential nominee on the Democratic side to state governors across the US. With the urgency that we’re seeing around science, and the amount of public pressure to companies, they’re gonna be investing. A low estimate is $5 billion, which is very low. On the high end, we’re talking at least 5 times that amount of money.”
Attendees of the event left inspired by Truong’s words of wisdom and advice, allowing them to push forward with critical climate action work as entry-level and emerging professionals across the US.
To read Vien Truong’s full bio, click here.
Climate Corps is an award-winning fellowship program that provides professional development opportunities for emerging leaders through implementation of sustainability and resiliency projects with local governments, nonprofits, and for-profit businesses. Host organizations receive the support of qualified, passionate, dedicated Fellows, who gain real-world expertise in sustainability project implementation.
The SEI Team
Environmental education and workforce development experts share stories from the field