Ivy Dunlap; Environmental Specialist and Landscape Architect; City of Portland, Bureau of Environmental Services
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. NWF EcoLeaders staff has interviewed this group of change-makers and rising stars that we call “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”
Environmental Specialist and Landscape Architect
City of Portland, Bureau of Environmental Services
David Corsar: So, to start out, looking back at your experience with NWF, how did participation as a Fellow help shape your career path?
Ivy Dunlap: The fellowship grant that I received helped me work on my master’s project, which focused on university campus sustainability in the landscape. I was a landscape architecture student, and LEED for buildings was popular, but the landscape was often overlooked. So it gave me an opportunity to investigate landscape sustainability, and I think that’s always helped me, even in interviews, to talk about my master’s project and that investigation and that interest that I’ve had for so long in sustainability and the landscape.
DC: What was the top thing, a skill perhaps, that you learned in your professional development at NWF?
ID: I guess just project management, in general, and setting up a workplan and having a clear goal and idea of the product.
DC: What are you up to these days? What is your role with the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services, and why you chose to work there?
ID: I didn’t seek out to work in the public sector; I didn’t think that that would be my path. I had been working in consulting and design firms as a landscape architect. Then this position came up, and it is focused on stormwater design and policy and innovation and education, and that was really my main interest in landscape sustainability - stormwater in the urban environment. So, this position came up, and even though I wasn’t interested in switching jobs, I applied for it and ended up getting it.
My day-to-day work is a lot of meetings (laughs); I’ll call that a lot of collaboration and building relationships throughout the other parts of the city, so that when we do go to do these projects, there’s a strong foundation of trust between all the different people that are working in the city to actually get things done. So, while it pains me a little to say that a lot of my day is meetings, I think that in the end, it is actually really valuable.
I do a lot of public outreach as well. People call me with questions about stormwater and stormwater design – other professionals in the city and landscape architects. Your name gets around as someone who answers their phone and who can help people navigate if they have some questions.
I do some stormwater design, and lately I’ve been working on our stormwater management manual. It’s not a lot of writing from scratch, but it is a lot of editing, working on details, and again, building those relationships with all the people that use the manual and making sure it’s meeting their needs and has the tools they need to get their work done.
DC: What originally motivated you to begin on this career path?
ID: I was interested in plants, and I was taking some native plant classes, and the person that was teaching those classes was studying landscape architecture at the University of Minnesota. He started talking about stormwater and how you might integrate stormwater management into a neighborhood, and it was things I had never thought about before.
DC: Who are your primary “influencers” or inspirations in the sustainability movement?
ID: One is Tom Liptan. I had met him when I was in graduate school, and he was a leader and innovator in stormwater management around the early 90s. So, he was an inspiration for me, and I later had the pleasure of working next to him - like here was my stormwater hero, and then I’m sitting next to him at work every day, so that was great.
Then there’s Mike Houck; he is an urban environmentalist in Portland, and he is always an inspiration to me. I think his motto is something like, “endless pressure,” so just constantly sticking to and remembering your mission and your goal and expressing it, and he’s great at that.
DC: Have you had any mentors or career coaches assist you in developing your career path?
ID: Yes, a manager at the City of Portland for 6 or 7 years was a good mentor; she helped me think about my career path and gave me opportunities to move forward.
DC: How would you describe or characterize that relationship? What made it a successful mentorship relationship?
ID: So many things are about timing - which doesn’t necessarily help anyone because you can’t just make it happen. But it’s often about timing in my career and in the other person’s career, so that it just kind of falls into place.
DC: How important do you feel it is for students to receive project design and management or leadership experience before entering the working world?
ID: I think it’s becoming more and more important, and I think there’s more pressure all the way from high school to have these opportunities that you used to get later. But now you need them earlier; I think it’s more competitive, and so having internship opportunities or project-specific opportunities are more important for getting your foot in the door and making connections and finding out what your interests are. I think it’s harder and harder to get that but more important to have those opportunities.
DC: What would you recommend to students who want to make a difference for sustainability either for landscape architecture or for sustainability in general?
ID: I think looking for maybe a mentor or somebody out there that you might connect with in your field, although respect that people are really busy, and it can be hard to ask that of somebody. Also volunteering - looking for different volunteer opportunities as a way to learn more and get some experience. That can be hard as well because it can be difficult to manage volunteers, so I think you would need to find an organization that is well equipped for working with volunteers or takes on interns to do smaller project tasks. But there are organizations like, for example locally, the Portland Audubon society which has a huge volunteer branch; also, a strong watershed council or a soil and water conservation district might be an option.