An immersive STEM experience in high school opened doors for my Environmental career

By Katy Reminga, Associate Project Manager at Atwell

 

As a young professional, I strive to combine my love for learning with opportunities for exposure to the field of environmental science and its wide network of environmental professionals to grow my knowledge and advance in my career. Interestingly, some of my earliest career moves have opened doors for me a decade after pursuing these learning opportunities, ultimately leading me to my current role as an Associate Project Manager at Atwell, where I’ve been on the Environmental services team for just over two and a half years.

Katy Reminga, Associate Project Manager

The high school experience that jump-started my career   

Presented with an early opportunity to learn science outside of the classroom in the summer of my senior year of high school, I attended a course called the Summer Science Institute (SSI) through Hudsonville High School, located in west Michigan. This incredible experience both cemented my desire to work in Environmental Sciences and established the beginning of my professional network in the field.

About 10 years later, I had finished my master’s degree and was working as a geologist in contamination remediation for an environmental consulting firm when I was presented with an opportunity for a full-circle career moment. Andrew DeWitt, Director at Atwell (and also a former SSI alumnus who now co-leads the program), asked me to assist in teaching and chaperoning the SSI course in the summer of 2020. Re-solidifying the early connections I made through the branching network of SSI ultimately lead to my transition away from the world of remediation consulting, and introduced me to the possibility of working in renewables with Andrew and the Atwell team.

Reminga (center) in the SSI Program as a high-schooler. She’s pictured with SSI instructors Chris Bolhuis (left) and Atwell Director Andrew Dewitt (right) at the top of Avalanche Peak in Yellowstone National Park.

Four approaches you can take to advance your career

It was those earliest connections and networking opportunities that shaped the path I have walked over the last decade, starting with an interactive field course in science in high school all the way to a career I have found real meaning and potential to grow in. Now, my experiences continue to shape my typical workday as an Associate Project Manager. When I reflect on the characteristics that have helped me advance in my career, I can pinpoint four approaches I took:

1. Have a hunger to learn

I’ve progressed in my career with the intention to never stop learning. After completing my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I considered going on to get my doctorate because I was nervous at the prospect of becoming stagnant in my learning. In some industries, the work can get very monotonous and lack challenge. I didn’t want to fall into that routine. Thankfully, at Atwell, I’ve been served with continuous opportunities to expand my knowledge base to better serve clients. This ranges from staying up to date on the permitting landscape and the changes occurring at the local, state, or federal level, to helping to establish a brand-new service market for Atwell in the offshore wind energy space.

In these past two and a half years, I’ve had the opportunity to get hands-on experience supporting solar, onshore wind, and offshore wind development projects, and have had the opportunity to support the National Environmental Policy Act permitting projects to contribute to commercial development. Through these projects, my teams are pushed to be nimble and continually educate ourselves on changes and updates occurring at all levels of government while offering creative and tailored solutions to help each of our clients meet their objectives. The appetite for continuous learning and the desire to maintain our expertise drives our work forward, and ultimately is what sets Atwell apart.

2. Build a network and maintain connections

Many of the connections I benefit from today were born from relationships I formed during the early parts of my career at SSI and beyond. Whether I consciously realized it or not, I was becoming part of a network of like-minded individuals who were passionate about the environment and solving environmental problems. That summer experience created instant connections and lasting relationships. As I progress in my career, I have come to learn that much of success comes from your ability to establish and maintain trust with your network of peers, colleagues, and clients.

3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and creative in finding solutions

I think the ideal person for Atwell is someone who’s not afraid to stretch into new experiences and get creative in finding solutions for our clients. When it comes to Environmental consulting and working in the applied sciences, you’re really looking for someone who is highly adaptable and can think outside the box to solve a myriad of different issues. No two problems are going to be the same and no single solution is going to transcend all circumstances or meet every client need. You must be comfortable with analyzing a complex issue that you may not know the answer to right away, and be open to learning and teaching yourself new things. I find that this is where we get to be the most creative and even exceed expectations by coming up with creative solutions that may not have been considered before.

4. Be a team player and a team builder

Just as offering technical advice and providing high quality deliverables to clients is important, so too is building and creating teams that can help make those things happen. You can have great ideas, but it won’t mean anything if you don’t have a talented group of people working together to bring those ideas to fruition. Cultivating a community and a place where people want to work, and being a teammate people want to work with, is really the glue that holds it all together.

Students in the program enjoying the view after a day of hands-on learning and discovery.

Other ways to gain valuable experience, learning, and connections towards your career growth

Because not everyone may be able to experience something specifically like the Summer Science Institute early in their career, I want to suggest two action steps you can take today to shape the future of your career:

1. Find a mentor who is willing to help you grow your skillset and provide you with opportunities to step up to the plate.

Many meaningful careers are built with the support of experienced professionals who offer others a seat at the table. Seek out a trusted advisor and help them to help you grow. This could be a quick connect over coffee, a standing monthly call, or lunch with a leader to develop that relationship.

2. Get as much exposure as you can to all the different opportunities in the consulting industry early on in your career.

If you do this, in just a few years you will develop a diverse and holistic skillset. You may also stumble upon something that excites you and shapes your career for years to come. Combine these two action items to jump start your career and expand your network.

In the early days of any career, networking and connections can serve you in your first job or in your third. As a young professional, I’ve combined the above to open doors for myself as well as my colleagues.

I am happy that there are many other students who got their start in the Summer Science Institute who have also gone on to become Atwell interns and even full-time employees like me. If you are intentional about continued learning, building connections, and being a team player, then those actions will likely take you where you want to go!

 

Culture/Our People, Environmental
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