Featured Alum: Megan McVey and Climate Communications
I recently sat down with alum Megan McVey regarding her work on Climate Change Communications. I hope you find it as interesting as I did!
Emily: Megan! I’m so happy you agreed to sit down and chat with me for this blog!
Megan: This is exciting! I’ve got lots to say about FES and how awesome it is!
Emily: Well I’m sure our readers out there will love to hear it! Let’s get right down to it. The beginning: where were you before FES?
Megan: I was all over the place – laboratories, developing countries, the media industry, and on Capitol Hill. It was my practical experiences working as a field tech alongside conservation researchers and at non-profit organizations that provided the strongest impetus for future study though. I was a field researcher in Belize and Zambia and I saw how significant the roles of culture, political ideology, and global markets are in affecting decisions regarding the conservation and management of the environment. Working in the field enabled me to see that in order for conservation planning to be effective, it must be done in a way that includes the local community and educates them on how to manage their own resources.
Emily: But then you went to Washington, DC, right?
Megan: Right. I worked with the National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund. At these organizations, I developed a comprehensive understanding of climate science policy strategies and worked to implement several family and legislative-related outreach campaigns in key districts and states. Serving as a conduit between scientists, the public, and policymakers intensified my interest in how education and the media impact human behavior towards the environment, and how environmental discussions are framed on a national and community level. I witnessed how public support translates into policy outcomes and how vital framing issues and mobilizing public opinion is to creating political pressure.
Emily: That sounds like fascinating work. What made you want to come to FES?
Megan: Well, I decided to go back to graduate school so that I could learn more about the human/social dimensions of environmental studies. My first year was comprised mainly of FES courses, but by my second year I expanded outside of the FES curriculum and took courses at both the School of Management and Architecture Schools (if I could do it all again, I would have definitely taken classes at the Divinity school as well). I would highly recommend taking classes outside of FES to expose yourself to other perspectives, and different ways of thinking about problems.
Emily: Any classes you would recommend to folks?
Megan: For me, Society and Natural Resources with Susan Clark was hands down, the most helpful, exciting and thought-provoking class I took. The class revolutionized how I think about the world and myself. It helped me work through and understand my own life perspective, and also helped me focus my professional trajectory. Environmental Communication with William Vance was another extremely helpful class that gave me skills that I will continue to use throughout my professional career. In this course students learned how to communicate with others in the workforce. We critiqued our public speaking skills, learned how to give an effective Powerpoint presentation, practiced how to run a meeting, learned how to moderate a panel, and much more.
Emily: I also liked those classes! What was your favorite thing about FES?
Megan: Favorite? Well, one of the most exciting parts of my experience at FES was getting the opportunity to do a two-year student assistantship with Tony Leiserowitz and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC). Working with Tony and the YPCCC team allowed me to practice my skills in a more professional setting and is what helped me network my way into the job I landed after graduating from FES. Classes are of course awesome, but getting real world, hands on experience early and often, and interacting with practitioners in your field of interest, are so important once you’re out of graduate school and expected to develop solutions that are both effective and feasible.
Emily: Any other tips for students new to FES?
Megan: I’d highly, highly recommend setting aside time to go meet with the FES communication coaches at some point before you graduate. Stephen and Julie were absolutely fabulous. These coaches will help you hone your interview skills, refine your cover letter, figure out how to navigate salary negotiations, and much more. Major thumbs up for these coaches.
Emily: So, what do you do now?
Megan: Right now I’m the Communications Coordinator and Web Content Manager for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which coordinates and integrates federal research on global and climate change.
Emily: What does that mean?
Megan: I develop and deploy strategies for communicating the Program’s science to a broad range of audiences. I create and disseminate digital, print, web-based, and multimedia content about USGCRP scientific findings through various communication and education channels. I also serve as the coordinator for the newly formed USGCRP Interagency Communication and Education Team (ICE-t), which aims to coordinate and enhance unified Federal strategies to communicate and educate about climate change science and related global change.
Emily: And….how do you like it so far?
Megan: At first I was a bit nervous about entering into the government sector, but it has been a very rewarding experience so far. Young, passionate people with big ideas can make quite a splash in the federal community, although at times the pace of change and bureaucracy can be frustrating.
Emily: Okay, back to admissions-y stuff. Why did you choose FES over other schools?
Megan: I was drawn to the F&ES program, specifically to the social ecology focal area, because of the opportunity to integrate several disciplines. I differed from many of my peers in communications because I had formal training in science. FES’s entrepreneurial approach with regard to curricula allowed me to undertake course work in both the social and natural sciences, which was very appealing. I was also really pretty fired up about the fact that the student population at FES was so diverse and proactive. I could just sense this awesome energy at the open house I attended. The students and faculty were so impassioned and wanted to go out and take on the world. It was incredibly inspiring to be surrounded by such a variety of perspectives and to know I would be collaborating with the most innovative minds in the field.
Wow! Thanks, Megan! There you have it, Ladies and Gentlemen! Megan is a great example of someone who did a lot of searching to find out what she really wanted to be doing. Keep in mind that if you’re applying for (or deciding whether to come to) FES, your interests don’t have to be laser-focused. What we want to see is that you’ve got extreme passion for this field, and that you’ve got experience to back up that passion. If you’ve had to wander a little bit to get to where you want to go, that’s okay! As J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote (and my true nerdy colors come out!), “Not all those who wander are lost.” Megan is now changing the way the White House talks to the world about climate, and has both the scientific and sociological backgrounds to do it. That’s HUGE.