"Completing both the Ecosystem Science and Management and Environmental Policy and Planning specializations balanced my desire to gain applied ecology skills while growing my abilities in the policy realm. I have found that combination incredibly useful in my current job, where I play a bridging role between scientists, public stakeholders, and government agencies."
Julia Elkin (MS '15) is a project manager at California State Coastal Conservancy, a state agency whose mission is to promote coastal climate adaptation, natural resource conservation, and equitable outdoor public access.
Describe your work at the California State Coastal Conservancy.
I work in close partnership with local governments, nonprofits, and coastal scientists to develop project concepts and then manage the money to help make those projects happen. Projects I've participated in range from the first native oyster living shoreline project in Southern California to public open-space creation in urban Los Angeles to large-scale wetland restoration and forest acquisitions in Northern California. Most of my projects focus on addressing sea-level rise and exploring how nature-based strategies can reduce flood risk and increase the resilience of both ecological and human communities. It is incredibly rewarding work because I get to support positive change happening on the ground.
Why did you choose SEAS and the Ecosystem Science and Management specialization?
When I visited SEAS on Admitted Student Day, I was blown away by my interactions with the faculty, who were by far the most welcoming and accessible of any of the schools I visited. The collegiality and energy of the professors, administrators, and students struck me as a community that I would grow well in and wanted to be part of.
Completing both the Ecosystem Science and Management (formerly Conservation Ecology) and Environmental Policy and Planning specializations balanced my desire to gain applied ecology skills while growing my abilities in the policy realm. I have found that combination incredibly useful in my current job, where I play a bridging role between scientists, public stakeholders, and government agencies.
What were some of the practical experiences you participated in at SEAS that are helping you now in your career?
Working as a GSRA for the Ecosystem Management Initiative under Dr. Steve Yaffee and Dr. Julia Wondolleck was a rewarding research experience that taught me skills for managing a demanding workload and cooperating on long-term project deliverables. Hands-on courses such as Environmental Negotiation & Mediation and Ecological Restoration (which included conducting a managed burn at Nichols Arboretum!) prepared me well for instances I now manage in my career. I was also a proud member of the EcoTones, SEAS's illustrious house band. While playing in a band doesn't directly carry over to grant management, maintaining some balance of creative fun amidst stressful hard work was a valuable takeaway from my time at SEAS and remains something I strive to maintain in my professional life. Good thing Coastal Conservancy also has a staff band!
Was the SEAS alumni network helpful to you in attaining practical experiences/career assistance?
The SEAS alumni network was central to how I found my current job. Spring break of my second year, I road tripped the West Coast doing informational interviews with SEAS alumni. Those conversations were excellent networking opportunities and opened my eyes to the diversity of roles possible with a SEAS degree. It was through an alum I met on that trip that I learned about the position opening with the Coastal Conservancy.
Would you recommend a SEAS education, and why?
A master's program is a huge commitment but, for me, attending SEAS was one of the best choices I've ever made. With access to resources across the U-M system, the SEAS program allows you the freedom to create an educational experience that prepares you for bringing learning into practice once you graduate the program. I recommend SEAS as a place of incredible opportunities and growth for someone eager to challenge themselves and engage fully in their education.