I work from wildlife to wetland to cultural studies....It’s fascinating work—a real nexus of science and policy.”
Ellen Crivella is a scientist who appreciates context. "Science in a vacuum is interesting, but it's not going to help people," she explains. She puts science to work in her job with the Portland, Oregon, office of international consulting and engineering firm CH2M Hill. In a given week, she might don steel-toed boots and hardhat for site visits with wind energy developers, or use a translator's touch in the office to consolidate reports from engineers, archeologists, and biologists for energy project permitting.
After earning her master's in an interdisciplinary environmental sciences program, Crivella decided to widen her reach even further with law and policy studies. "I considered the JD program, but since the master's program was just one year, it gave me a chance to explore the field," she says. Once at VLS, Crivella became an Energizer, one of the top students selected to do research and consulting with clients of the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE). "It was the perfect marriage of science and policy," she says. "We worked with Director Michael Dworkin on energy security, transmission policy, and factors that influence energy supply and demand, and I thought, ‘This is it! This is what I want to do.'"
Although the job market has changed since Crivella received her VLS degree in 2007, key factors that aided her in finding the perfect job remain relevant. One is the singular nature of the Master of Environmental Law and Policy (MELP) program and the skills it develops. "My VLS coursework made me a standout candidate. Where else can you be a scientist taking third-year law courses?" she notes. "I'd explain to potential employers that I was not an attorney, but a scientist who knew about energy policy."
Another major advantage was the program's structure, which enabled her to do an internship as well as take VLS Summer Session courses. "I had a fantastic summer in which I interned at a small Massachusetts branch of a large consulting firm, ATC Associates. Professor Dworkin runs the IEE like a consulting firm, so I felt ready. I gained extremely valuable experience in the policy side of the business and participated in field trainings for the many health and safety regulations you have to know. And since VLS Summer Session classes are just two weeks long, I could take off from my internship and fit one in. I couldn't believe I was in a small class taught by a FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) Chairman Jon Wellinghoff."
Her work now fluctuates between field and office work in Oregon and Washington. In the field, she inspects construction sites for compliance with national and state permits. "My emphasis in my earlier graduate work was soil science, so I can recommend to a wind developer how to comply with erosion and sediment control regulatory requirements. Our CH2M Hill team function as an independent third party, and a contractor can show agencies our reports proving they've taken due care with the site." In the office, she's busy writing permits. "I work from wildlife to wetland to cultural studies and translate what archeologists and biologists have written into language relevant to contractors and decision-makers," she explains. "It's fascinating work-a real nexus of science and policy."
She's sanguine about the job market in energy-related companies like hers. "As Amory Lovins famously said, 'People want cold beer, lit rooms, and hot showers.' Energy industries seem well insulated against financial fluctuation." She notes that in her region of the Pacific Northwest, wind power is taking off, thanks to the good fit of wind turbines, extensive landscapes of wheat fields and ranch lands, and favorable state policies.
And between Oregon's mountains and seacoast and Portland's cultural life, the Northwest is a good fit for her. "Oregon's a wonderland," she says. She sees a bright professional future here: CH2M Hill regularly earns top rankings as a good workplace for women, a forward-thinking environmental engineering firm, and an ethical corporate citizen. "My company offers so many opportunities in transportation, energy, and the environment," she says. "In the future, if I wanted to change my job focus, I know I could do it here."