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Elizabeth Lytle Isaac

Major: English          
Minor: Secondary Education
Year of Graduation: 1983
Current Job Title: Legal Assistant in Boston for The Nature Conservancy

Briefly describe other positions you've had since graduation to now.
My first job out of St. Ben's was teaching high school and middle school English, in St. Michael, MN. I then got an M.A. in English from Northwestern University and returned to teaching high school English for four years. Disillusioned with trying to teach literature and composition well with ever-growing class sizes each year in the then-largest district in the state (Anoka), I thought I'd try the business world. I worked for 6 years for The St. Paul Companies, in three positions in its printing and publishing department, then two years as an account executive with Bolger Publications in Minneapolis before we moved out east for my husband's new job.

My study abroad experience at St. Ben's, and Professor Josefina Caballero, left an indelible thirst in me for international travel and a fascination with other cultures. Ready to try something new again, I felt our move out east might be a good time to get more involved with international work and was intrigued with immigration. I wanted to get experience with immigration as well as find out whether I might like to go to law school. After a brief internship with an immigration social services agency, I worked as a legal assistant for an immigration law firm in Boston for four years.

That experience helped me discover I really liked legal work, didn't want to become a lawyer, and found working with the immigration population rewarding and fascinating. However, our law firm, like others, was really buffeted about by the economic downturn following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and we faced potential layoffs my entire tenure there. The stress from that job insecurity made me realize immigration law wasn't going to be a long-term pursuit for me. All along, my concern with environmental issues grew and grew, until I became a member of both the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Nature Conservancy. I learned enough over a few years of membership to realize I really wanted to work for one of those two organizations. When a legal assistant position opened up with the Boston office of The Nature Conservancy, even though it did not represent a promotion, I jumped at the chance to work with an organization whose mission I so highly respected.

What are some of the things you were involved in during college that helped you initially begin your career?
My work on the campus newspaper and the literary magazine gave me invaluable experience with meeting deadlines, prioritizing, staying organized, writing, and editing that I benefitted from immensely in teaching, and as a yearbook advisor, and in every position I've held since then.

How does your work at The Nature Conservancy fit you?
I have always been happiest in positions where I am helping people, or providing a valuable service. The direct involvement I have with land protection deals makes me feel that our work helps shape the land we will leave for our great-great grandchildren and so on to enjoy. Since The Nature Conservancy does a good job of telling the stories of what we do, all around the world, I'm able to keep learning about other cultures and I'm also encouraged that others who read about the work being done will help join the efforts to preserve the natural beauty around us.

What advice would you consider giving to current students as they contemplate choice of major and future career choices?
Don't feel you need to figure out in college what you'll be doing for the next 20 years. Learning about yourself, your dreams, your ambitions, is really an evolution. Figure out where you'd like to start, then listen to your heart closely with each experience you take on, so that you don't stay in work that doesn't fulfill you, and try to keep growing as your career advances, so that you can keep your passion for what you do.

Tips on balancing work and family?
Some organizations and corporations get it, and some just don't. Asking questions about balancing work and family might give the wrong impression in an interview so find out through other means. Finding the organizations and corporations that do "get it" can make a tremendous difference to your mental health, happiness, and your ability to balance having a career and raising children, if that is what you desire.

Any other comments you'd like to share?
Thank your teachers and professors along the way. Their impact on your life will be immeasurable.