Kimberly Reeves; Sustainability Programs Manager; University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

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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: Kimberly Reeves
Sustainability Programs Manager
University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

Interviewer: David Corsar, NWF

Kimberly is a Sustainability Programs Manager at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. As an NWF Fellow, Kimberly updated the Agnes Scott College campus arboretum and led an initiative to earn the campus a Tree Campus USA status as well as later act as a pilot campus for the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban Forestry Sustainability and Management Audit.

David Corsar: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how has participation as an NWF Fellow help shape your career path?
Kimberly Reeves:
After my senior year of undergrad at Agnes Scott College working with NWF, I went on to the University of Georgia to pursue a degree in Environmental Planning and Design. The arboretum project I was able to complete with the help of NWF allowed me to not only update the campus arboretum, but turn it into an initiative that led to our campus earning a Tree Campus USA status, creating a Tree Advisory Committee, a tree care plan, and ultimately led to the U.S. Forest Service using Agnes Scott College as a campus to gauge the effectiveness of the Urban Forestry Sustainability and Management Audit that allowed a succession of students the ability to get hands-on experience working with the management of our urban forest. Personally, the project allowed me to develop a sense of place and a strong desire to protect the beauty of our natural environment. I had the opportunity to work in both sustainability offices at Agnes Scott College and the University of Georgia, which was a perfect combination of working on infrastructure, educating communities, and engaging others in the world around them to help foster their own sense of place.

DC: What was the top thing that you learned in your professional development with NWF?
I was fortunate to have a strong support system while implementing my project on campus. Not only did I have very knowledgeable faculty and staff helping me, but they were willing to give additional time to see this project succeed. The most valuable thing I learned was successful projects stem from positive, forward-thinking people, which comes from engaged leadership. Celebrating the small victories help a team feel on track to attain the larger goal. Even if most students, alumnae and the community members don’t realize that their sense of place with Agnes Scott College is rooted deeply in the trees, without a guide, committee, and arboretum to help protect them, the campus would be a truly different experience.

DC: What are you up to these days? What is your role at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and why did you choose to work there?
I am the Sustainability Programs Manager at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. I manage our student staff on campaigns, initiatives, events, and programs that engage and educate our campus community about reducing their individual and campus carbon footprint. This includes working closely with our communications assistant, zero waste team, events assistant, and volunteer coordinator. I also support the student-led Green Action Fund, which is a student committee on campus that reviews and grants funding to sustainability-minded projects to help reduce the UCCS campus’ carbon footprint. I sit on many committees including the campus sustainability committee, the bicycle advisory committee, and the greenhouse and farm committee. Within the Colorado Springs community, I’m on the Green Cities Coalition board, Colorado Springs Recycling Coalition, and the Fountain Creek Watershed Creek Week committee. It is important to foster the town gown relationship and support local organizations and businesses, not only to share ideas and resources, but to provide opportunities for students to also engage with their communities. I chose to work at UCCS because the university has been a leader in environmental and sustainability, and I saw opportunities to increase my skills and knowledge in many areas. I’ve had the chance to work at both a very small and very large institution of higher education and UCCS has provided the experience of working at a medium size school and the challenges and successes that come with it.

DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
KR: Since the nature of sustainability is holistic in approach and implementation, I find myself trying to foster the excitement that exudes from each individual. Not everyone is going to have my enthusiasm for identifying plants, photographing critters, engaging in community, or educating youth, but they may love aquaponics and local food or upcycling or commute only via bike. They might only use a reusable grocery bag because it holds more or they might only use LED light bulbs because it saves them money. It’s not to say I don’t love these things, too, it’s the idea of nurturing each person’s love of something so they start to see the network and systematic approach that everything is connected.
DC: What motivated you to begin this path?
This is always a difficult question. Many things have influenced my passion to protect our world. My parents were huge advocates for taking us all over the state of Georgia and the country. We were always hiking, biking, walking, learning, and engaging in the world around us. We went to natural history museums, state parks, science museums, libraries – each of these experiences was a foundation for my understanding of making connections. I was part of my early education’s green clubs, and took environmental science my senior year of high school. One of my uncles works for EPA Region 4 and encouraged me to apply for the EPA summer internship. These experiences led to internships and jobs with like-minded goals of conservation, education, and carbon footprint reduction as core values. Sometimes this is an emotionally draining field. We are constantly trying to modify and change behavior, which is one of the hardest things to do within society. But the group of people who have dedicated their life to this work are passionate, positive, and tireless. These are the people that keep me moving forward.

DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
Through my arboretum project with the NWF, I grew to understand that trees don’t just make up a forest, rather each individual tree has a purpose and a different way of growing and providing for the ecosystem it helps form. I found myself identifying trees by their name, almost being introduced to the tree itself rather than only seeing the forest as a whole. This led me to the work of Wangari Maathai. I was so excited to hear her speak at the 2011 AASHE conference and was devastated with the knowledge of her death, but I know she positively influenced so many people and communities that her legacy will not only live on, but will continue to grow in strength. Along with many other well-known environmental leaders, I also tend to have a laundry list of people who have helped mold my own life. Some I know well and others have had a fleeting stint in my life. I think it’s important to learn from the national and international inspirations, but it is equally important to find people within your own community that provide you with the passion to continue on.

DC: Did you have any mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
Two of my most adored mentors came into my life during undergrad – Susan Kidd and Martha Rees. Susan hired me as Agnes Scott College’s first work study student in the Office of Sustainability. The office was newly created my first year of college. This was an amazing opportunity for me since majority of the work that I received would have normally gone to a more senior employee, but since our office was three-strong, I was given the chance to work on projects that elevated my knowledge and ability at an early stage. Susan has helped mold me into the person I am today. She pushed when I needing pushing; she consoled when I needed a shoulder to lean on; she educated when I needed to broaden my knowledge; and she was honest at all times. Working for Susan allowed me to experience first-hand how a positive work environment can help produce favorable results. I learned you don’t have to agree with everyone, but you do have try to understand their perspective and meet them half way. Martha was my academic advisor and one of my favorite professors. She helped hone my passion for environmental studies focusing on societies. I remember Martha giving our class the advice to find a job that we are passionate about and back track to find out how to achieve that job. She’s the reason I went to graduate school for environmental planning and design. My senior paper in her class was on walkability and trying to understand why students on campus would not walk from the apartment complex a quarter mile away and instead drive. She’s the person I went to when I needed advice; she’s the person who helped push me out of my comfort zone; she’s the person who required we call her Martha since she learned from us as much as we learned from her. Without Martha, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

DC: What made those mentorship relationships work?
Both of my relationships with Susan and Martha stemmed from the environment of searching for advice. But I don’t think either would have developed or strengthened without me reaching out. I was constantly setting up meetings to engage and further my education (both inside and outside the classroom.) These conversations pushed me to be open about opportunities and gave me the confidence when an opportunity arose that I had the skills and the ability to take them head-on.

DC: How important do you feel obtaining project-based leadership experience is when entering the workforce?
KR: I think project-based leadership experience is one of the most valuable tools you can have when entering the workforce. I’ve been told numerous times that many people can start a project but it shows true character to manage and see one through to completion. The fact that I had a project that I could show the entire process from idea to fruition and how it’s being compounded upon even after I’ve left shows that I have the leadership, organization and vision to complete something that has benefited an institution and surrounding community.
DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability?
I would tell them to find what they are passionate about and engage. I may not have been passionate in high school about catching grasshoppers to calculate the migration patterns of a specific population, but I was passionate about protecting tree canopy in urban areas. This stemmed from the arboretum project which led me to volunteer with Trees Atlanta, intern with Fernbank Museum of Natural History in their old-growth forest, take a wildlife habitat management course in the University of Georgia Warnell, School of Forestry, and ultimately engage with all ecosystems I have the opportunity to come across. I have this strong desire to know what plants are in my backyard, in my neighborhood, on my hikes, and in my new state. This passion spills over to other areas of my life and work, which help me make those connections. Engaging with students on campus at an event helps them understand that their choices impact more than they think, which opens up a larger conversation about what they can do to make those impacts positive.

Habitat and Wildlife

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