Jenny (Stephenson) Dixon
Graduation Year: 2004
Major(s): Biology & Environmental Studies
Current Position: Environmental Protection Specialist with the US EPA Headquarters' Office of Solid Waste, Washington, DC
Please give a brief description of your current position.
I work in the Municipal Solid Waste Reduction branch where our goal is to reduce waste production and increase the national recycling rate. Specifically, I focus on packaging and electronics. My work on packaging is centered on improving the design of packaging and communicating the impacts on climate change resulting from packaging waste. With electronics, I am responsible for the data on the management of used and end of life electronics and I work on Plug-In To eCycling. Plug-In is a partnership program with electronics retailers, manufacturers and service providers to increase consumers' awareness of the importance of recycling electronics and the opportunities to do so.
None of my work is directly tied to regulation; it is all based on voluntary partnerships. Consequently, it involves working closely with stakeholders, communicating the importance of taking a specific action, and identifying the value proposition for them to make a change. The vast majority of my work is accomplished through working in partnership with major companies including Wal-Mart, Dell, Sony, Frito-Lay, and Estee Lauder.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
It was the spring of my senior year and I was frantically applying everywhere and anywhere. I already had my resume loaded into EPA's on-line job site, so any position that came up and looked remotely interesting, I applied for it. Two months later I received a phone call wondering if I would be interested in interviewing with the Office of Solid Waste. In total, it took six months and four interviews from the time that I applied to the time that I actually started working.
I was very fortunate in that I was hired as a permanent employee, but was part of a rotational program. So for the first two years I had three different eight month rotations within our office. I started out working on the permitting of hazardous waste combustors. Then I moved to working on packaging and electronics and my last rotation was with the Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign. Through the rotational program I was able to work on a variety of different projects, develop different skill sets, and get to know a lot of people in the office. At the end of the two years I was able to choose where I wanted to be placed; so now I get to work on the subject matter I'm most interested in and with colleagues with whom I really connect.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Do a lot of internships - you build your resume, develop new skills, and you are able to find out what you're truly interested in.
What skills are important in your field?
A strong foundation in scientific understanding and technical skills are important. However the ability to effectively communicate is critical. It is what sets people apart. You need to be able to write clearly and concisely, synthesize large amounts of information, identify the key points, and tailor it to your audience.
Strong networking skills are a definite asset. It helps to know what is going on, what people are doing and their interests. You can only gain this information by talking to people. This information enables you to refine your pitch, work out a better approach, and ultimately, be more successful.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
I would say everything, but that's not all that helpful. There are four specific experiences tied to each year of college that helped prepare me for this career.
· Freshman year: For J-term, I took a career planning course. It helped me identify strengths and skills that I wanted to further develop. It got me thinking strategically about what I wanted to have on my resume by the time I graduated.
· Sophomore year: I was part of the first environmental studies learning community. It reaffirmed my passion for the environment and I enjoyed exploring the beautiful complexity of balancing environmental, economic, and societal interests. From this experience I also gained some invaluable academic advisors/mentors.
· Junior year: One of my advisors helped me get a summer internship at Cedar Creek Natural History Center. I worked on a National Science Foundation long-term ecological research project. It made me realize all the tedious work that goes into scientific research, and that it wasn't for me.
· Senior year: I had an on-campus job working on the MN Radon Project. I learned how to use GIS mapping software and gained insight into how a program is developed to address an environmental/human health problem.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job?
Contrary to some people's sentiments towards government workers, I work with some very passionate, brilliant people. And we are in the position to do things that no one else can. At the end of the day our bottom line is protecting the environment. I like knowing that I'm contributing to a greater good.