At Hampshire, I study something along the lines of Environmental Policy. As I move towards the end of my time in college, I’m struggling to imagine a future career and life that’s both environmentally sustainable and secure.
To get a better picture of what that career could look like, I reached out to alums of Hampshire and other schools working in environmental fields. I wanted to hear about their paths from an interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree to a compelling and sustainable career.
One of the people I interviewed was Cass Pastorelle, the program coordinator at Eagle Eye Institute, to talk about her path from a double major in Spanish Language and Environmental Studies at Tufts University to running programming for a non-profit bringing environmental education to urban public school youth.
After graduating in 2012, Cass worked with a couple of large environmental non-profits, including the Connecticut Audubon Society and the Appalachian Mountain Club. Cass’s job with the AMC was unpaid, so while she was working there, she started a job that may have actually had a greater impact upon her career—working for a bakery. Cass’s job at the bakery brought her an interest in food and where it comes from. She ended up working there for two years full time.
the bakery job inspired the next four years of her work in sustainable/organic agriculture. She started at an organic farm south of Boston, near Dorchester, that donated ten percent of its crops to inner-city Boston. Here, she had an “awakening experience,” learning about food access, food justice, and gaining an understanding of what it is like to work outside every day, learning about the land and the growing season. At this point, Cass became a seasonal worker, which meant looking for a new job every three months. This took her eventually to her home in Brattleboro, VT, and offered her valuable insight into her own capabilities.
Cass said one benefit of seasonal work and applying for a new job every three months is that “you start to get creative about what is out there to do”. This is a helpful thought for those of us who tend to overplan and get attached to things too far in the future. Cass kept her head down and allowed herself to just work hard in the world that she was in and then switch to a new working world the next season.
Cass spent three years in Brattleboro working as a farmer during the summers and spending the rest of the year teaching Spanish at a local high school. Towards the end of those three years, Cass attended a family program with the Eagle Eye Institute, and asked if they were hiring. Fortunately, Eagle Eye was making a transition from Boston to Western Massachusetts, and were looking for an employee to join them in their new location. Over the course of the next few years, Cass transitioned from part-time to full time with Eagle Eye, and is now their sole full-time employee.
Student readers might be interested to know that Eagle Eye offers a 6-week summer residential internship program every summer. Interns learn outdoor skills, work in the gardens at Eagle Eye, and work on land-based projects, as well as help with some programming. The summer internship comes with a $2,000 stipend. See the attached job flier for more info: Eagle Eye Residential Summer Internship 2020
Cass’s path from college to an environmentally sustainable career offers many lessons and reminders to focus on what you are doing and not to obsess over where it leads. Cass sent me four tips for any person entering the working world:
*Go to trainings, workshops, and conferences. You’ll learn a lot and you never know who you’ll meet or what networks you’ll become a part of. Look for creative ways to finance them: ask your employer to cover professional development costs, do work-trade or volunteer, or look for grants (e.g. VSAC in Vermont supports adult continuing education).
*You don’t have to be good at science to go into the environmental field. My experience of environmental nonprofits is that they need people of all skill sets and abilities. If you’re good at writing, everyone needs to write grants. If you’re into media, every organization needs creative ways to share their work. Good with people? Community outreach, volunteer management, development, and direct service are all good options.
*Be careful about debt. Grad school can seem appealing because it offers a concrete next step, but you can also acquire knowledge andskills on the job (and be paid to learn!) or through volunteer opportunities (e.g. doing a paid farm apprenticeship instead of getting a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture, learning about nonprofits by volunteering with one). Sometimes grad school is the right choice, but there are other options, especially if you’re not afraid to make your own path.
*Enjoy exploring. You’ll learn so much about the world, what your strengths and interests are, as well as what you don’t want to do (just as useful). As long as you can cover your living expenses, no one type of job is better than another (internship, seasonal, part-time, apprenticeship, temp, service program). Short-term experiences can become long-term or often lead to unexpected opportunities. The skills you develop and people you meet will benefit you later on.
I’m grateful to Cass for her time and insights, and look forward to talking with others about their path to a meaningful and sustainable career.