Exploring environmental careers with Upward Bound

By Karina Graeter and Jessica Rule

University of Maine TRIO Upward Bound students gathered this summer for an interactive Environmental Green Careers Panel facilitated by the Office of Sustainability MPES AmeriCorps program. Upward Bound is a UMaine residential program for low-income and would-be first-generation high school students. Over six weeks, students gain the skills and knowledge vital to college success by taking college courses for credit, attending and exploring research and job pathways, and making lifelong connections and friendships.

The Environmental Green Careers Panel exposed Upward Bound students to exciting career possibilities in environmental industries. Five panelists talked about their careers and career paths. Among the panelists was the environmental coordinator from the city of Bangor, a representative from Maine Department of Environmental Protection, two Acadia National Park employees, and an environmental organizer. The panelists had a wide range of educational experiences, such as community college after military service, graduate school for a law degree, and AmeriCorps. Their diverse life and educational experiences showed the variety of pathways students could take to environmental careers.

The event began with a showing of Greta Thunberg’s viral Ted Talk about action on climate change. This prompted the students to think about their roles in a society confronted by the climate crisis. Jessie Rule, an AmeriCorps energy efficiency community specialist, led the introductory portion of the panel and shared information about environmental career opportunities. Students were surprised to learn that the two fastest-growing occupations across all U.S. job sectors are solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians. Rule told the students that there are many educational paths to working in environmental fields, and that there are ways each and every person can help protect the Earth, regardless of academic degrees or job titles.

A panel discussion followed, moderated by AmeriCorps energy efficiency coordinator Christine Seibert. Seibert asked: What is a typical day on the job? Why do you think your work is important and impactful? What is a challenge you’ve overcome to get to where you are today? If you could give your high school self one piece of advice, what would it be? Students asked earnest questions in response to the panel discussion. They wanted to know what they, as individuals, and we collectively as a state can do to respond to climate change. The panelists’ responses were thoughtful and inspiring: Talk to people. Tell them about the changes you are seeing in Maine. Youth voices are powerful — let yours be heard. Get in with the right crowd, and keep trying. Find what you love and put your heart and soul into it. We’re all in this together.