Kindra Ramos; Director of Communications and Outreach; Washington Trails Association

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The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. We’re calling this group of change-makers and rising stars “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”

Interviewee: Kindra Ramos
Director of Communications and Outreach
Washington Trails Association

Interviewer: David Corsar, NWF

Kindra is the Director of Communications and Outreach at Washington Trails Association, where she built an outreach program to Washingtonians in order to empower people to get outside and protect natural areas for future generations. As an NWF Policy and Lobbying Intern, Kindra supported a variety of legislative initiatives.

David Corsar: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how did participation as an Intern help shape your career path?
Kindra Ramos:
My time at NWF helped give me the foundational skills that got me started. It was my first job after my master’s degree, which was really focused on the policy world. That is where I knew I wanted to go, but I had never done any on the ground experience, so it was really my chance to dive in and build not only my professional office skills but really understand the world of advocacy and policy and how to really be part of a movement. It was phenomenal, and more so I think it was really the people and the relationships that truly helped shape my time there.

DC: What would you say is the top thing that you learned in your professional development, perhaps a professional skill, at NWF?
I would say that the top thing I learned is how to carry myself in various situations. I was a Policy and Lobbying Intern, so I had the opportunity to go to meetings with legislators – originally with some of my supervisors and then on my own. I also had the opportunity to do some press conferences and help organize events and be a presenter at the congressional events. For me, it was really learning how to carry myself in a variety of situations that became the biggest skill that I took forward – learning how much confidence and attitude can really influence what you’re able to do.

DC: What are you up to these days? What is your role with Washington Trails Association, and why did you choose to work there?
I am the Director of Communications and Outreach at Washington Trails Association. WTA is a statewide nonprofit hiking advocacy group, so we work to protect and promote trails across Washington State with the belief that everyone should have access to the outdoors, and that hiking can bring power to a person’s life, both personally and spiritually. It’s about helping ensure access and inspiring and empowering people to get outside and also to ensure that those experiences are around for the next generation.

I started with WTA a decade ago, and what excited me about it was that it was an opportunity to build an outreach program. It was a small office back in Washington State, which is where my wife lived, so we kind of moved to Washington DC for the NWF internship and then moved back across the country for this job. For me, it was a chance to take what I learned about being an advocate and help hikers speak for themselves. I got to trade in my wool suit and heels for jeans and hiking boots and keep that power of democracy and put it to use for a mission I care about.

DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
KR: For me it’s about living the best I can and empowering others to live their best life as well. There’s so many choices that we make every day that influence the sustainability of our world, and you can’t always make the perfect choice, but you can make the best one you can, and I think that every one of those decisions adds up.

DC: What motivated you originally to begin this path?
I was blessed with two parents that have been politically and environmentally active since forever. I remember being super excited about punching the little chads out at the voting booth at my mom’s hip at a very young age. There were lessons that I was able to grow up with; we grew up in rural California, and my father worked at a lumber mill, and he was also lead in the green party, so it was always about trying to find balance between the reality of where we are and where he wanted to see the world go.

DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
Oh my goodness, there’s so many! Right now, I think one of the people that is really inspiring me and doing such hugely important work is Glenn Nelson with the Trail Posse, which is really all about providing a space to highlight voices of people of color in the outdoor recreation movement - to really inform conversations about diversity and inclusion and the outdoors. It’s an important part of making sure that everyone has the opportunity to experience our public lands, which are a unique gift in the United States, and then ensuring the future of these places because you can’t have advocates speaking up for a place that they don’t understand, love, or have the opportunity to experience and feel a part of. So, for me, Glenn is just doing some amazing work there.

Rue Mapp with Outdoor Afro, is doing similar work, and it’s been really great to watch those movements grow.

DC: Did you have any professional or unofficial mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
Yeah, I would say that most of my mentors have been unofficial; there’s just so many great people that can teach you things every day, particularly if you’re open to it and asking for feedback and really trying to actively be open to what you could do better. During my time at the National Wildlife Federation, Corry Westbrook, who was then the policy person on the Endangered Species program, was really wonderful, and she really gave me the opportunity to grow during my time at NWF, and continued to be a resource after the fact that I could go back to time and again throughout my career.

DC: You mention that she gave you the opportunity and the space to grow and acted as a resource; are there any other aspects of that relationship that you would characterize as having helped create a successful mentorship relationship?
KR: Definitely, I think one of the biggest things was that she was approachable. I felt comfortable speaking up so that I asked questions, and she treated me as a colleague and was really frank. She has a very wry sense of humor and is very direct, so I always knew that her advice and critiques came from a good place and that there was kind of no sugar coating. I had a good sense of when I was on the right track and when I really needed to reexamine. And she was good at taking the time to explain her thought process to me. You can learn a skill, but really the ability to think through a policy issue or a relationship strategy takes so much time, and having someone who would just sit down and talk you through their thought process so that you could see that in a visible way was a huge help for me.
DC: Do you plan to seek out opportunities to act as a mentee again or perhaps be a mentor yourself?
I now manage a staff of four, and I love helping my team grow, I feel like that is one of the biggest benefits of being a director is really helping people find their best selves and grow into their positions and beyond. I love that and I do it with my current team, and I am always open to having informational lunches or helping people figure out where their next growth opportunities are.

DC: How important do you feel obtaining project-based leadership experience is when entering the workforce?
I thank it can’t be overemphasized. I think that you can certainly learn a lot by just being in a place and learning and observing, but actually doing something hands-on provides such a deeper understanding. And more than that, I think it really provides confidence and accomplishment that allows you to enter the work force truly ready to take on what’s next. I think that being able to say, “I’ve done this,” helps you do it again in a more professional setting.

DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability?
I would say get involved. There are a ton of opportunities, whether it’s volunteering or being a part of one of the many environmental groups out there, whether it’s EcoWomen or one of the sustainable leadership groups. So many opportunities come from simply the start of a relationship. Just diving into the sector that you’re interested in is the key to opening up doors.
Also, ask questions. If there’s someone who does something you think is really cool, ask if you can take them out to coffee. See if they have some stepping stones for you; see if there’s a way you could help out in some way, and see where are those gaps that you can fill in and start to make a path for yourself. There’re lots of opportunities out there, but sometimes you have to be willing to take a risk, and pick up a phone or give back a day and see how you can contribute.

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Date Added: May 15, 2017
Date Last Modified: May 15, 2017