Preparing Future Leaders to Protect the Environment
In January, a handful of CalRecycle staff members participated in mock interviews with environmentally focused high school students in the San Francisco Unified School District.
The interviews were part of the school district’s Career Pathways program, which introduces students to different career paths. Mentors help students in the program explore their personal strengths and interests, build their resumes, and participate in mock interviews and internships to prepare for their individual college and career paths.
The program’s Energy, Environment, and Utilities pathway uses project-based learning to provide a more authentic, work-based learning experience for students interested in those career fields. Last month’s mock interviews were a chance for students to gain experience before their formal interviews for upcoming summer internships. CalRecycle staffers provided feedback on student resumes, shared stories (good and bad) about their interview experiences, and provided tips and constructive criticism to help prepare students for future interviews.
“Collaborative programs like this are great examples of how to give students the practical skills they’ll need to navigate their work and college goals,” said Bendan Blue, an environmental scientist with of CalRecycle’s Office of Education and the Environment.
Having the opportunity to interview high school juniors and seniors in preparation for formal interviews was both fun and eye-opening. For Julia Dolloff, an environmental scientist at CalRecycle, it was a reminder of how both gender and upbringing can influence a young woman’s confidence in her professional abilities. Dolloff found it important to remind the young women she interviewed that they have skills in leadership, innovation, problem solving, and creativity, even if they acquired those skills in an unpaid setting. For example, caring for a younger sibling or helping out at a parent’s small business are experiences students can cite as testaments to their leaderships abilities. Through constructive feedback during and after the interviews, Dolloff was able to help these young women portray a stronger sense of confidence in their professional skills.
“It was rewarding to be that strong example, with my colleagues Maria Salinas and Angela Vincent, of women succeeding in the workplace,” Dolloff said. “I hope others feel inclined to work with youth, and especially young women, through similar events to help support them on their way to greatness.”
For CalRecycle’s Environmental Justice program manager, Maria Salinas, the experiences sparked an influx of joy and sadness. “There was an odd paradox between the beautiful old buildings with much-needed repairs,” said Salinas. She enjoyed the bold student artwork against the old architecture and hearing some teachers speaking Spanish to their students. “If only adults were as creative as they were in their youth and more adults spoke their first language more freely,” Salinas said. Many of the students who participated in the mock interviews were first- or second-generation Americans.
Another insight Salinas noted was the youthful innocence of the students juxtaposed with their ambitions. “It happens so much in serving others. … We were there to inspire, and they inspired us,” Salinas said. “I told students to reach for the sky. It reminded me to do the same in my own life and career.”
The experience was as rewarding for the CalRecycle staffers as it was for the students. As a volunteer, I realized that I also could benefit from most of the advice I gave to the students. When asked to provide an example of leadership, one student expressed that he felt he wasn’t a leader because he was shy. I tried to build his confidence by pointing out attributes that he could cite for potential employers, such as listening well, paying attention to detail, and being able to take direction. Pushing himself out of his comfort zone to take on leadership roles could help him grow personally and professionally, despite his shyness, I told him.
As a fellow introvert, I felt I could relate to the student. It is important for me to listen to my own advice to work on my leadership skills and confidence in professional settings.
Staff members all felt fortunate to be able to participate, both for their own personal growth and to give back to others. Thanks to the CalRecycle staff who were able to take the time to help develop our future leaders. It is a good reminder of why we do what we do: protect the environment for generations to come.