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How did you figure out that being an environmental engineer was the job for you? Did you join any clubs or have any hobbies that influenced you?

I’m a high school student and recently, I found environmental engineering to be interesting but I don’t know if I want it as a career. #environmental-engineering

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Aaron’s Answer

I started as a geologist. I was looking for Geology Internships in Hydrology and I got offered an internship in Water Environmental Engineering. I wasn't completely sure what it was but they said it involved hydrology so I thought, "Great!" Since then I've learned a lot. Environmental takes many shapes and forms across difference companies. Some companies join Environmental teams with the Health and safety team since depending on the industry, sometimes the rules overlap and you want to work together. For example in mining, labeling containers is a huge thing both for environmental and for the health and safety group. Some of the rules are similar across RCRA (environmental regs) and MSHA (Saftey regs) so the groups work together as an EHS team to ensure proper labeling is happening across the site.
However, I've been on mine sites where it seemed easier to have the hydrology team and Environmental team work together because they had so many water permits and constraints by the state that it was a 24/7 effort to be in compliance from a water standpoint having to monitor 400 plus wells. Some companies invest in a sustainability group also.

As far as entry level jobs, depending on what your undergraduate major was in, they'll try to place you in Environmental with a focus in waste, air, water, lands/reclamation, and/or generalist. You can either study Environmental Engineering or some other degree that can have relevance. Studying hydrology would make more sense for focusing on Environmental water related things. That's how I started and I eventually decided to try some waste management and air quality management just to see if I liked it. My company paid for me to go to RCRA training and some Air quality permitting training. I ended up liking air a lot and RCRA with waste was just different so it was fun from that aspect. It made me a stronger team member all around since I could help with waste shipments on and off if our main waste manager was out of town. I also got on the more technical side of creating algorithms with programming to alert us via email if we were going to have an air deviation against our permit. This way we could prevent it from happening sooner than before.

One thing to keep in mind also is there's the more legal side to environmental and the more technical. You can get really into managing and interpreting permits/overseeing compliance. I did some more legal focus at one point and got to work with the companies legal counsel about Federal level regulations coming out. I preferred the more technical side such as how to interpret data and create valuable data that will get presented to the state, EPA, etc. Or creating newer technologies so the company can improve production but also decrease waste at the same time but also not spend more money(recycling, etc). They'll love you anytime you can do that :) You could do a little of both. These are just one of many routes you can take. I'm talking more from the gold mining industry experience.
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Ana’s Answer

Hi Bindy,

Funnily enough, I market myself as an "environmental engineer" as I have been in the environmental team for almost 10 years! However, my journey started as a Chemical Engineer. To be honest various of us started in chemical engineering and then moved on to the environmental field. I would say that when I started I didn't know this was going to be the field for me. Chemical engineering provided me with the tools to learn problem solving and material properties and then from there the possibilities were endless.

I ended up in the environment field as part of an Entry level program where engineers from various backgrounds got chosen and put in various groups. I was put in the environmental. To be honest, when I started I thought it was very dull because I was in the permitting side of the house. That just was not for me. Then I tried to manage other programs: Toxic Release Inventory, GHG, and sustainability initiatives. I felt better doing those programs as I was playing with data and chemistry. Overall if you had an environmental background, some concepts would probably have been easier.

Right now I am doing product sustainability. Which I find fascinating! I am excited to plan and to work with other teams to really make a difference in how we make our products more sustainable!

I would say...do join those sustainability groups and see how you like it. Do you get excited to be part of a group that will solve the most pressing problems of our time?? Also applying for internships to see if you like the EHS (Environment Health and Safety) team, or to see if you would prefer a role more closely working with the government or with a state agency would also be valuable!
Thank you comment icon This is a great answer as well Aaron Escamilla
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