'19 alum finds niche working on climate change initiatives

For someone interested in working on climate issues, Flagstaff, Arizona is the ideal place to be. That’s certainly the case for Jillian Goulet, ’19, who turned a post-graduation AmeriCorps experience into employment a year later. She’s also pursuing her master’s degree in climate science at Northern Arizona University.

Jillian had a fantastic opportunity to experience the Southwest when she participated in the border trip as an undergrad, and fell in love with it. Now, she’s serving as the Climate Engagement Coordinator for the City of Flagstaff Sustainability Section, working on a variety of climate-oriented initiatives with a focus on education and outreach.

A new field = learning curve

Jillian was a psychology major at Heidelberg, so most every aspect of her position working with climate change was new to her. But she jumped in feet first. She was quickly able to apply the communication skills and behavior change knowledge she learned at Heidelberg to the job.

“There was a significant learning curve at first,” she says. “But the first two months, I was able to participate in a volunteer training course alongside community members where I learned from coworkers, professors and community organizers.”

She learned quickly that a lot of the work in her field is based on innovation and education. “Working with peer cities to develop programs and reading the latest news and reports on new technologies have helped keep me sharp,” Jillian says. Being flexible and able to adapt to evolving opportunities have become part of her daily activities.

“That year with AmeriCorps was vital to my growth as a strong employee, project manager and presenter. The opportunity to work for a year with little prior experience allowed me to gain understanding of local government systems, program development and implementation, and sustainability and climate action,” she says.

Climate change communicator

Many of the responsibilities from Jillian’s AmeriCorps experience have carried over to her current position. Today, she manages climate ambassadors, sustainability leaders and the Climate Action Challenge. She also launched a pilot program for the Resilient Neighborhoods Network gives many presentations, writes press releases, contributes to social media, and works on advertising.

Jillian’s daily work touches a diverse set of Flagstaff employees with two programs she manages:  the City Ecopass program that issues each city employee a free bus pass for use around the city and the employee Bike Fleet that provides bicycles to city facilities for staff to use when traveling throughout Flagstaff.

Her work also touches some of the most vulnerable residents of Flagstaff. She secured a $10,000 grant through the Leadership in Community Resilience program, leading to the creation of a HEPA Air Purifier Program, where residents in need can receive air purifiers to help them deal with the impacts of allergy and fire season.

A year ago, Jillian’s work shifted focus. The City of Flagstaff had declared a “climate emergency” and set a new goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2030. “Most of my work the past nine months has focused on engaging with over 2,600 community members and writing the Flagstaff Carbon Neutrality Plan,” she explained. The plan was adopted by the Flagstaff City Council just last night.

Regardless of the assignment, Jillian has found her niche. “I love engaging with community members. Whether I am distributing air purifiers, tabling at an event or giving a presentation, being able to interact with residents and facilitate community building is always a joy,” she said.

The value of a mentor professor

It might not have happened if not for the guidance of her psychology professor and mentor, Dr. Ginny Gregg.

Jillian had her heart set on entering a Ph.D. program following her ‘Berg graduation. But her plans took a detour and she found herself foundering, until …

“Dr. Gregg suggested I apply to positions with AmeriCorps for a year until the next round of graduate school applications opened up,” she recalls, noting that Dr. Gregg served as her mentor for her Honors capstone project. “She had a huge impact on me and my confidence in my writing and public speaking abilities.

In addition to her psychology courses and the border trip with Dr. Cindy Lepeley – an “unforgettable experience that allowed me to expand my knowledge of refugees and the immigration process and provide youth education” – Jillian cited her Philanthropy Honors seminar that challenged her beliefs and instilled a value for government service.

The Philanthropy seminar, team-taught by Dr. David Hogan and President Rob Huntington, inspired in Jillian a desire to work in the government sector, rather than going the non-profit route, she says.

Full circle: Caring about people

Reflecting on her time at Heidelberg and the role it played in her current career success, Jillian says she chose psychology as a major because she cares about people. She has parlayed that personal philosophy into a rewarding career and field.

“To me, the basis of climate action is protecting people and giving them a livable planet for the future,” she says. “My experience at Heidelberg instilled in me a strong passion for justice, developing policies and programs that mitigate the impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable aligns well with that passion.

This young alum is already making a difference in her little corner of the world.

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