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Writing for the Environment

Like many alums, Emily Zimmerman ’09 recognizes the value of internships. In fact, her current career – that of a Speechwriter and Public Affairs Specialist for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – began with an internship at the EPA during her senior year at UMass.

“The best time to meet people and figure out what you like and what you don't like in a career is when you are a student,” she says. “It's the best way to get a glimpse of a full time job.”

Zimmerman’s EPA internship also helped to pinpoint those classroom skills that would translate into a job after graduation.

As a double Political Science and English major, one of the most important skills was writing—a skill she still cultivates at the EPA. “I do a lot of reading and writing and analyzing every day,” she says. “Then I ask a lot of questions.”

It’s that last part that Zimmerman views as one of the keys to her success.

“I have always loved back and forth political discussion,” she says. “Some of my favorite memories are in classes where we tried to solve the world's problems, but ran into the road blocks of opposing perspectives.  That is a real life thing.”

Part of asking questions is learning how to interact with others. At UMass, she recalls professors who encouraged questions, discussion, and feedback. As a student at the Oxford Summer Seminar, she remembers how many discussions went from the classroom into the English pubs.

This continual engagement with others has now become a central part of her professional life. “I rarely accomplish anything on my own,” she says. As a speechwriter, she has had to learn how to interact with and speak to a variety of people, perspectives, and interests.  “My work-environment often resembles one giant group project,” she says.

Although one may picture a speechwriter as hiding behind the scenes, that is not the case for Zimmerman. Her communication responsibilities also send her into the field as a Community Involvement Coordinator.

“Basically, that title means I am the liaison between a community we may be working in and the project we are working on,” she says. “I make sure the community is involved in our project or cleanup efforts by organizing and running public meetings, posting press releases and public notices, making phone calls, creating fact sheets, developing websites, etc.”

This community work has already engaged her with two high-profile emergency response teams: the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill Response in the Gulf and the recent Hurricane Sandy Response.

“When a national crisis occurs and the President declares a national emergency, that opens up federal dollars and efforts to begin work on the problem,” she says. Zimmerman has to make sure the public understands the federal response and make sure communication lines remain open and clear. Learning to work through the challenges introduced by trying to communicate with multiple entities and interests is incredibly important, she says.

“It's always sobering to work with such a variety of perspectives and try to find the middle ground.  On some projects it's easy and others it's much more difficult to satisfy everyone’s interests.  How do you protect the environment, the community and the economy all at once?  It takes a long time to iron out that question,” she says.

But she is confident she will always reach an answer. UMass has prepared her well to tackle difficult questions. “UMass was a place that gave me everything I needed to be successful,” she says. “I was able to participate in sports, intern, work, travel and study abroad.  I gained life experiences, not just academic knowledge. …It wasn't just a place to go to class:  it was a place to grow, develop skills, meet people and have a good time.”

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  • Alumni News