What It’s Like to Work at the EPA

Working with the EPA

What if your first job after college was doing something that not only affected you, but also the rest of the U.S.A.’s population?

Sounds pretty crazy, right?

And yet, it’s a definite possibility. Marisa Tricas is currently working as a fellow in the Office of Water at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C. This means her everyday activities affect you.

Does this appeal to you? Read on to find out a little more about what Marisa does and what it’s like to work at the EPA.

Academic Background:

Marisa graduated from the University of Redlands in June of 2011, where she majored in Environmental Science and minored in Government. She is now getting her Master’s in Environmental Science at Johns Hopkins University.

Set to graduate next year, she’s a part-time student (taking night classes) while working full-time as a fellow in the Office of Water at the United States EPA.

What the EPA Does (And Doesn’t Do):

The Environmental Protection Agency, as a whole, protects public health and the environment. It is broken up into different offices. Marisa works in the Office of Water. Other offices include the Office of Enforcement and Compliance, which regulates the amount of pollutants that are going into our environment, and the Office of Air, which analyzes our air quality.

One misconception about the EPA is that they do extensive work in relation to endangered species. Those regulations fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

What Being a Fellow Means for Marisa:

Fellows are required to have an undergraduate or graduate degree or a PhD. Being a Fellow is not only a great experience for recent graduates, but it gives you a foot in the door and allows you to see how a government agency operates.

As a fellow, Marisa is given different projects to work on for her contractual period. They can range from writing policy to doing research.

The Office of Water consists of four different branches. Marisa is the assistant to the Deputy Director of the Office of Science and Technology (one of the four branches). This means her daily duties include scheduling his travel, meeting with different environmental groups coming into the office, and attending conferences across the nation on his behalf.

She also writes policy documents, meets with different groups interested in water technology innovation, and networks with a lot of different organizations.

The most challenging part is learning how the agency works. In the government, there are many rules and regulations and it can take years to master and understand the fundamentals of each office.

Another part of her job is implementing one of the Office of Water’s policy priorities—how to foster and support the growing need for water technology innovations (e.g., new technologies to protect our aging water infrastructure, new technologies to combat storm water runoff in cities using green infrastructure, and new technologies to improve water quality monitoring).

Marisa gives an example of water technology innovation: the old way of getting water samples was for a single person to go out and take ten samples of a body of water to analyze. Now, some new water technologies are using robots who gather 3 billion water samples a day.

But Marisa’s day doesn’t always end when she finishes up at work. As a part-time student, she attends evening classes twice a week.

“If you balance your time and sacrifice some of the social activities that you would do otherwise, getting your Master’s and working full-time is possible,” she says.

Getting the Fellowship:

Marisa heard about the EPA’s Fellowship through a friend at a previous internship she was doing.

“Networking was key to getting myself this position,” she explains.

She was immediately drawn to the position because of her interest in both Environmental Science and Government. This fellowship combined the two perfectly.

Marisa submitted her résumé and once it was selected, there was an initial phone interview with a human resources representative followed by two more rounds of interviews before she got the job.

Marisa’s advice for college students who’d like to work with environmental conservation:

“The amount of jobs available to you are overwhelming and will only get better. There are NGOs, non-profits, government agencies, and businesses who all need someone interested in protecting our environment. The key is finding the best fit for YOU. Even though it might take a while to find the ‘perfect job,’ don’t settle!

It is totally possible to be happy in your position and to do what you are passionate about. We live in a tough economy right now, with an even tougher job market for recent graduates our age. But through hard work and persistence you can truly accomplish anything that you want and have fun in the process!”

Marisa Tricas

Homework time! Interested in environmental issues and the government? Marisa says there are many different options available. Take some time to research the different types of jobs. You can check out our post on what it’s like to work at a non-profit to see if that might be the right fit for you.

Marisa found out about her fellowship during a previous internship. Take a moment to read our posts about internships and networking. Then make sure you’re getting the most out of both.

P.S. Interested in working in the government but want to go in a different direction from Marisa? Read about how Jordan Ozaki got a job working in local government and what she does as a Legislative Aide.


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