Sustainable Works Panel Informs Students of Exciting Environmental Friendly Employment opportunities

"Any career can be a career serving the environment," said Ana Greenberg, Santa Monica College career services advisor and the facilitator of "Every Job is a Green Job" panel that took place on Thursday. This was the motto of the panel, which is a part of the Cool Careers series, and which included an environmental lawyer, a green cosmetologist, a National Parks ranger, and the director of business greening program at SMC's own Sustainable Works.

Students who attended got to listen, while munching on bagels and vegan cream cheese, to an incredible story of Ramona Merryman, a cosmetologist who uses all organic products, utilizes natural ventilation in the salon, and promotes water safety. She started working as a hair stylist as a little girl, and soon realized that she could make a lot of money, whilst driven by "strong desire to make people look and feel better." Merryman said that cosmetologists who have been working a long time often suffer from skin and respiratory problems due to chemicals such as sulfates, ammonia, and parabens commonly found in beauty products. Parabens, derived from petroleum, have been linked to tumors and cancer. Merryman said that because beauty products and salons are not regulated by the FDA, cosmetologists and customers are often not told what is in the products they are using.

These chemicals, according to Merryman, affect not only the beauticians and their clients. Rinse water from the salons caries the chemicals to other people, because sulfates and parabens cannot be removed from the water supply at the treatment plants. Merryman advocates for grey water system out of all beauty salons.

Water was the focus for another speaker from the panel, Michelle Mehta, an attorney with the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC). One of her many tasks is to prepare policy papers that combine scientific studies that could help influence policies dealing with the environment, and in her case the aquatic. "Anybody who works [at the NRDC Santa Monica office], from receptionists to attorneys, feels passion for the environment," Mehta said.

Mehta, who majored in history before enrolling in law school, said that it is not necessary for students to have an environmental science background (although it definitely helps) to get into environmental law, a fast-growing field. But one does "need to have passion for public policy," she said. Mehta said that working for NRDC, a nonprofit organization, has been a highly rewarding experience for her and her co-workers. Still, one should be "willing to take a big pay cut working for a nonprofit," she said, but the big reward from her comes from not having to deal with ethical dilemmas many lawyers faces when trying to make money at a big firm or a private practice. "It really shuts people up from making lawyer jokes," Mehta said.

For students who are not interested in sitting in an office or a salon for their career, Antonio Solorio, a National Parks ranger and youth outreach and recruitment manager for Santa Monica Mountains, offered an alternative. "This is my office," he said, as he showed the audience his photos of green hills, nature trails, and wildlife specialists taking measurement of a sedated mountain lion.

Solorio, who had taken classes at SMC in the past and recently received an M.A. in geography, said that as a kid he went on a camping trip that would change his life. After the trip he would camp out on the roof of his East Los Angeles home and stargaze. Solorio pursued internships with the National Parks, including one in Yosemite, and eventually became a ranger. He feels that "many urban youth don't have an opportunity to go into the mountains." He said that historically the Unites States National Parks had been a "racialized landscapes," meaning that minorities and people of color were discouraged from visiting. Now the service is trying to make its parks "more relevant to the public."

Solorio works on recruiting high school students to do maintenance, landscaping and a variety of other jobs in the Santa Monica Mountains national recreation area, which would go along with their academic studies. At the same time the program serves to educate young people about the unique ecology and cultural heritage of southern California. Santa Monica Mountains are part of the state's unique and incredibly diverse floristic province, as well as the place for many Chumash and Tongva Native American sites.

National Parks Services, whose mission is to preserve natural and cultural heritage, offer many internships, including paid ones, in all areas of interest (although anyone who works for National Parks is called a ranger, Solorio said), in any of their 391 parks around the country.

An SMC student does not need to go far away to be involved in an environmental field. "[SMC's Sustainable Works] is a great resource for environmental education," Susy Holyhead, director of business greening program at Sustainable Works said. The non-profit program offers workshops to the students and the community. The business program of Sustainable Works provides consultation and green certification for variety of businesses in Santa Monica. Students who enroll in the 9-week Student Crew Program can get extra credit for their classes. Internships are also available. Sustainable Works offices are located at the Center for Environmental and Urban Studies at 1744 Pearl St. (reopening soon, after renovation).

The green careers panel showed students that almost any job can serve the environment or be move towards being more sustainable and environmentally friendly. It simply is a "philosophy of life," Greenberg said. Added Solorio: "If we are not thinking about the environment every day...we are committing slow suicide."