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Shadows get to experience a day in the life of a green professional

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 16, 2013 - Jacob Beebe, a Washington University grad student in architecture wants to pursue a career in the St. Louis area after graduation, but he hears that that’s not always the case for others.

“You have emerging professionals, as I will be,” said the 24-year-old, “come straight out of college and a lot of times go for bigger and better things on the East and West coasts in large cities where the jobs are.”

The USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter aims to combat that phenomenon by casting a shadow – a green shadow to be exact.

The local USGBC branch is accepting volunteers and students to participate in its “Green Shadow” program, an initiative in which those interested in pursuing a green career can explore their options by spending a day tagging along with a sustainability professional. Beebe, a participant in the effort last fall, said the program gave him a better idea of what to expect in the work world.

“I was looking for ways to get involved with the professional community within the area because I’d like to stay here after I graduate in May,” he said. “That was the intent behind it, to make new connections and see what was going on.”

Hope Gribble, membership and education coordinator with the organization, said the opportunity allows young people a window on professional life they wouldn’t normally have.

“When you are in school, a lot of your time is really wrapped up in understanding the theory behind what field you are going into. Providing this opportunity lets (students) see what life is like day-to-day for a professional.”

Started in 2010, the program is expected to attract 20-25 students for the upcoming semester. Participants can choose among several green professionals from civil engineers to architects. Mentors must be chapter members.

“The field of sustainability is growing in general; and within institutions of higher education, there are more and more degrees and certificates that are popping up that are related to sustainability,” Gribble said. “So we thought this was a real niche and something our chapter could provide to the community because we have such a wealth of experienced chapter members who are working in related fields.”

Richard Reilly enjoyed mentoring his students last year. The energy programs manager with Missouri Botanical Garden’s EarthWays Center said he tried to give them a well-rounded perspective on what he does every day.

“I also let them look at some of the less exciting parts of my job which are managing a database and information communication with home performance contractors, organizing meetings,” said Reilly, who mentored Beebe. “It’s some of the day-to-day administrative stuff so they understand it’s not all glamour.”

He also took them on tours of construction projects.

“It’s important for people thinking about a career change or young people working their way through college to figure out and understand what it is they want to do for a living,” he said. “There are a lot of jobs that can have the title green or sustainable associated with it. For these guys to go out in the field and maybe spend some time with an engineer or architect … the shadow can determine whether it is a path they would be interested in pursuing or if it is simply not for them.”

It also helps nurture professional connections, something vital to those who might want to build a career in the area. Wanda Evans, a sustainable design consultant with Hellmuth+Bicknese in Maplewood, said that while she did take her mentees around to various sites, including the Living Learning Center in Eureka, one of the greenest buildings in the world, she also let them simply talk to others.

“I just had them sit with everybody for a little bit of time and let everyone introduce their projects to them,” she said.

Gribble said that’s a big part of the program.

“It helps them to begin developing relationships in the professional world,” said Gribble. “Several of the shadow experiences that I’ve received updates from, the mentors have brought them to different meetings or introduced them to their staffs.”

Caeden Sweet, a student in the masters in sustainability program at Saint Louis University, was also a participant in the program last month when he shadowed two individuals at Alberici. The 32-year-old city resident looks forward to a career in green building consulting.

“I think the biggest benefit of it is that you have an opportunity to go inside and see what somebody’s daily job is like so you get an actual taste of what it is before you go down that path,” he said. “I was able to sit in on conference calls. I was able to understand more about what they are doing as far as consulting on LEED projects and realize for me that that is the way I would like to go. It was a confirmation or validation of that.”

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