EEM Alumni Spotlight: Katie Starr ’16

I have another Environmental Economics & Management (EEM) graduate Q&A for you, this one from a more recent graduate, Katie Starr, who graduated just this past December, 2016.

Katie, where do you currently work, what’s your job title, and what are your overall responsibilities?

I am currently working in Oxford with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. I’m an Environmental Scientist and my overall responsibilities include running air and ozone sampling tests and data collection/analysis. I also handle air pollution complaints and permits for the Northern Mississippi region.

What is a typical day like for you in your job?

A typical day for me is never typical! I could be doing anything from driving to one side of the state to collect data to driving to the other side of the state to investigate a pollution complaint or to finalize a permit for a company that will emit any kind of “pollutant”. I also do a lot of paperwork and data analysis when it comes to permits and complaints. MDEQ has also thrown me into the biochem lab a few times to do some more hands on testing!

How has your background – in particular majoring in EEM – helped prepare you for this experience?

EEM gave me the tools to think outside of the box. I wouldn’t be able to do my job as efficiently if I wasn’t able to look at a problem and think about it from every angle. The analytical skills I gained through EEM have also helped me keep my bearings during our data analysis.

What did you most enjoy about the EEM program?

The thing I appreciated the most about our program was our EEM community. I’m blessed to be able to say that I got to study with some of the brightest students and faculty. Any time I was struggling in a class (or just life in general) there was ALWAYS someone in the department I could turn to; be that study groups and extracurriculars with other students or going directly to the professors. Even now I keep in touch with my old classmates and professors, and I will never be able to thank EEM and the Department of Ag Econ enough for the bonds I’ve made.

What advice would you give to students trying to pick a major or to students thinking about the EEM major?

I was caught between the general business economics and EEM when I first came to Mississippi State. I ultimately chose EEM because the economics was the same (it’s very easy to minor in business econ with EEM) but with EEM you get a deeper look into some of the world’s most pressing issues. Combine the narrowed economic field and the Department’s size and you truly could not get a better program.

Any other comments on the major, your experiences, or anything else?

A++ for EEM (if I were grading)

Thanks, Katie!

EEM Alumni Spotlight: Jonathon Giuffria ’12

Let’s try something new with a Q&A from an EEM grad! Today we feature Jonathon Giuffria, one of our earlier Environmental Economics and Management (EEM) majors, class of 2012. Jonathon has been nice enough to answer a few questions about his experiences in our program and since graduating. (And yes, some of my questions are probably a bit leading…but I did ask Jonathon not to say stuff he didn’t mean! Really, I did.)

Jonathon, what have you done since graduating, up until your current job?

Prior to working with the EPA as an Economist, I traveled extensively overseas, worked with a MS entrepreneur solidifying supply chains, and attained my M.S. in Agricultural and Applied Economics from Virginia Tech.

Where do you currently work, what is your current job title, and what are your overall responsibilities?

I am an Economist with the EPA working in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. This office is charged with administering and implementing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which was recently revamped by Congress in 2016. In general, I work with the Economics and Policy Analysis Branch to provide economic and regulatory support to the overall office. On a day-to-day basis, I help conduct preliminary market analysis reports attempting to discover how industry and the public would be affected by proposed environmental protections, such as chemical labeling or restrictions on consumer chemical uses. Learning the framework of the EPA and how to conduct cost-benefit analyses at MSU was paramount for my success here at EPA.

How has your background – in particular majoring in EEM – helped prepare you for this experience or other experiences you have had?

Many of the economic methodologies practiced within EPA were well covered by the Department. Additionally, the flexibility of the program allowed me to take several policy oriented classes which arguably landed me the job here. Had I not studied the statutes that promulgated the EPA’s creation in Environmental Law and Environmental Policy and had I not known known the fundamentals of a cost-benefit analysis, I firmly believe that I would not have stood a chance in getting a job here.

What did you most enjoy about the EEM program?

For one who likes to branch out of his or her immediate discipline, EEM is a great choice. I was ecstatic to have the flexibility to study Ecology and Forestry Economics one semester and then study Environmental Law and Natural Resource Conservation the next. The faculty were all willing to work with each student truly catering his or her course trajectory based upon his or her own unique interests, be it aspirations to practice law, work in the private sector, or advocate for wetland restoration with a non-profit. An important take-away is that my professors wanted me to have this experience – they were all very willing to work with me and carefully consider my educational aspirations.

What advice would you give for students trying to pick a major or for students thinking about the EEM major?

To the student who wants to take 12 hours a semester and show up to class still asleep, I suggest you pursue other options. However, if you are willing to learn and are passionate about environmental or agricultural issues – the next sustainable food system, fishery economics, how can we change the energy grid, or even moving to downtown DC and directly contributing to the environmental policy process – then I highly suggest that you speak with one of the faculty members in the Department of Agricultural Economics about the Environmental Economics and Management degree.

Any other thoughts on the EEM major, your experiences in the program, extracurriculars at MSU, etc. and how it has shaped your life, helped you achieve goals, etc?

As an EEM student, I was always encouraged by my adviser and professors to pursue my interests. Because of their flexibility and openness, I was able to study abroad in Spain, conduct research in Brazil, and even teach English as a Second Language in Arequipa, Peru. To top it all off, my major adviser* and I shared a common interest – we both studied Music as a secondary major. No matter how eclectic or quickly my interests changed, I was always supported by the Department. I firmly believe that my diversity in education and personal experience is one of the strongest assets that I bring to the workplace, and it all started with pursuing a degree in Environmental Economics and Management.

Any other comments?

College is expensive – better make sure your investment is worthwhile.

Thanks, Jonathon!

*Guess who?

Update: What are our EEM graduates up to?

Well, we have a new boss here in the department and he asked me to update this previous blog post from early 2015 about what our EEM majors are doing after they graduate from our program. I spent a little time tracking some of them down and had some fun conversations – some I hadn’t spoken with for a few years so it was really nice to catch up!

You can see the previous list in last year’s blog post but here are what the graduates since then have been doing. We’ve had eight new graduates since the last post, and two I haven’t been able to get hold of. For the remaining six we have:

  • Recruiter for a staffing agency, Raleigh NC
  • Economic Development Program Manager at Mississippi Development Authority, Jackson MS
  • Legislative Assistant for Florida Crystals Corporation (producer of organic and low-environmental-impact sugar), Washington DC
  • Restaurant Manager, Starkville MS
  • AmeriCorps VISTA for the Center for Economic Education and Financial Literacy (here in our department)
  • Graduate school, joint JD & MA in Environment & Natural Resources, University of Wyoming

Besides these recent graduates, some of our earlier graduates from the EEM program who were mentioned in the previous post have changed jobs. They are now:

  • Peace Corps, Sustainable Ag Systems Extension Agent, Panama
  • Major Donor Manager, Republican National Committee, Washington DC
  • Speech Language Pathologist, Cumberland MD
  • Law School, Washington & Lee  U.
  • Unit Director, Boys & Girls Club, Starkville MS
  • Administrator, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market (natural & organic grocery store), Worthington OH

I should also point out that we had four Demmer Scholars who completed internships in Washington, DC this past summer. Three were current EEM students, one of whom will be working with the Foreign Ag Service in Washington, DC after graduating next spring. (Lesson: internships can lead to job opportunities!)

You can see our EEM graduates are spread out fairly well around the nation in a variety of endeavors. Also, it’s around that time of year when students in Dr. Little’s seminar class will be going around to their advisers asking questions like what job opportunities there are for our majors, whether internships are useful, how to be successful as an undergrad student, etc. I usually tell my advisees that economics is a way of thinking that helps you in any job in which critical, logical thinking is an important skill (and that’s important for many jobs as you can read about here!). But, if you want to actually do what most economists do, which is analyze data in order to answer important questions relevant to policy and to private decision-making, you’re going to want to consider going to graduate school to further develop your economic skills. Grad school isn’t for everyone – neither in terms of taste nor in terms of need – so our hope in the department is that we help our students develop economic thinking and knowledge and expose them to conducting economic analysis so that they can make great, best-informed decisions about their own futures, which can take any of numerous exciting routes. And maybe they have a little fun while in the program too…

Career opportunities in environmental economics

Students often ask me what kinds of jobs environmental economists get. Bob Hartzell has named his list of the top 5 career opportunities in environmental economics. They are (1) environmental consulting, (2) project management, (3) resources policy advocacy, (4) agricultural economics, and (5) resources management, and you can read about each on the hyperlink.

Most of these positions will require at least a master’s degree. And, in fact, in order to be hired to do the type of work that most economists do (in general, analyzing data to answer questions your employer wants the answer to), you’re going to need a master’s degree whether you’re an econ, agecon, or environmental econ major. And of course, if you go beyond a master’s degree and get a PhD, there are many more job opportunities available such as working in academia (i.e. being a professor), working for NGOs and government organizations, and working in the private sector.

I usually tell my undergraduate advisees that your graduation from MSU sends a signal to potential employers. The first signal, which doesn’t depend on your major, is that you were competent enough to graduate. And that’s saying something – not everyone can graduate, so if you do so, that says something about yourself. It first of all says that you were capable of passing your courses. But it also says you were organized, committed, and disciplined enough to spend about 4 years working towards your degree. If you go on and get a master’s degree or PhD, that signals that your expertise is probably greater than that of someone with only an undergrad degree and that, again, you were committed enough to pursue more advanced degrees.

The other signal your graduation sends pertains to your major. While both the history major and the environmental economics major are committed enough to graduate, the history major is probably more likely to enjoy reading and writing and to be able to, um, do whatever else it is history majors are good at (I don’t know because I’m not one). If you’re an economics major, it sends a signal that you are relatively strong in critical thinking and logic, and, if you’re an environmental economics major, you can think critically about environmental issues in particular and that maybe you have some knowledge of applied economics (analyzing data to answer questions).

Our Environmental Economics and Management (EEM) major is relatively young so we’ve had only a handful of graduates so far. But here are some of the things they’ve gone on to do after graduation:

  • Go to graduate school (Virginia Tech, USM, MSU)
  • Human Resource Management at Target
  • Environmental Professional at Nova Engineering and Environmental
  • Production Supervisor at Yokohama Tire
  • AmeriCorps Volunteer
  • Area Director for Ozone Ministries

You can see that some positions are more related to the environment than others based on their titles. Some of that may be due to the preferences of the graduates, but, in general, I’d say that regardless of what a student’s major is, many students don’t actually go into the field of their major directly after graduation. I myself was an economics (straight up, not ag or environmental) and music double major. After graduation I volunteered for AmeriCorps and then had several odd jobs that were related neither to music nor economics, until I entered graduate school for environmental economics after a 4 year hiatus from school. And that four year hiatus was important – it was during that time that I learned there was such a thing as environmental economics in the first place.

My own philosophy is that you needn’t be so attached to a particular career route as an undergraduate (but if you are, that’s perfectly fine). But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to be thinking ahead. My approach was to set myself up to have opportunities (if you don’t graduate, you’ll have fewer opportunities!), let a little time go by, learn about the world and my own preferences, and then make a more specific decision about a career path 4 years after graduating from undergrad. I’m sure many of our graduates will make career changes like I did as they progress in life. So be thinking about the opportunities you’d like to be setting yourself up for (different majors open yourself up to different types of opportunities!) as you choose your major and make decisions about graduate school and other possibilities after graduation.