by Claire France
Tried and true, teamwork makes the dream work. A recent visit to the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed this cliché for me and applied it to the world of working towards sustainability. I recently participated in my university’s career center’s “Intern for a Day” program, where students shadow workers in fields of interest, and I visited the Environmental Protection Agency. Raised in the Lehigh Valley, I think of EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region 3 as home, but I attend the University of Georgia, so I was in the headquarters for Region 4, which covers Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee—and six tribes. During my short time at the Region 4 headquarters, I absorbed so much information about how projects and priorities are successfully managed and implemented at the agency.
I chose (unbeknownst to me) probably the single most interesting day to shadow at the EPA:the day before the 2017 Presidential inauguration. This meant that the Regional Administrators, appointed by former President Barack Obama, were experiencing their last day at the agency. Listening to Region 4 Administrator Heather McTeer Toney reflect on her career amongst her colleagues at the EPA was both inspiring and enlightening. Through her stories about the various projects she participated in, she always emphasized the importance of teamwork. She highlighted the strengths of coming together as one for a common goal, and specifically pointed out a team of female coworkers that had strived to achieve success in a project together. It was not only through her own words, but how others spoke of her that I gauged her influential and inspiring presence in Region 4.
However, as she pointed out, leaders depend on their team to reach their goals. The particular branch that I shadowed was the Office of External Affairs, where I learned quickly that the many different branches intermingled frequently to assist each other in tasks and goals. I saw professionals from nearly every field during my visit: accountants, lawyers, scientists, the whole nine yards. But more importantly, I learned how they worked together through their emphasis on having excellent communication. For example, I was able to sit in on a meeting of recently hired employees and observe how they open the door to new employees. These professionals ranged in age, branch, and title, but they all showed up to this meeting eager, asking questions, and coordinating with coworkers outside of their own branch. Beyond how they undoubtedly practiced team-driven skills within their workplace to excel, I noticed their commitment to ideas of sustainability outside their own walls. Several new employees approached me after the meeting, giving me advice and encouragement about pursuing a career path that blends finance and sustainability. I was so inspired by their passion of spreading their knowledge as far as they possibly could in pursuit to help others.
My visit to the EPA illuminated the necessity of teamwork in organized success—whether that be within a single office, within an agency, among different agencies, or beyond. Through various employees at the EPA (from the administrator to the recently-hired college grad) I was shown how we, as sustainability-seekers, can and should collaborate and draw from others around us.
by Claire France
Claire hails from the Lehigh Valley and is a student at the University of Georgia, where she is majoring in economics.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)