Alumni Spotlight: From Advocate to Associate

Author: Natalie Ambrosio '17

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Just 11 years ago, GreeND was coming into existence and Jackie Gonzales (’10) was co-president of Students for Environmental Action. After leaving her mark on the University’s fledgling sustainability initiative, Jackie got her PhD in environmental history at the University of Albany, SUNY.

Canoe trips, interpretive talks and advocacy defined Jackie’s next several years as she worked seasonally for the National Parks Service on both sides of the country and for environmental policy organizations. Acknowledging that moving up, in the National Parks Service or elsewhere, requires more indoor time, Jackie traded the sunshine and trails for the desk and took a job as a consultant in Seattle at Historic Research Associates. Working indoors has been a transition for Jackie and this shift has brought other challenges her way.

During her years of advocacy work, Jackie’s role was to write on a certain side of an issue and persuade others. She grew used to being opinionated, but in her new role she must research and write objectively.  Her projects range from creating administrative histories for federal agencies such as the National Park Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to litigation support for lawsuits such as tribal and water rights. Jackie explains, “Writing for lawyers takes a lot of restraint and forces you to check your own opinions at the door.”

Consulting means working on many unique projects and constantly learning about new topics. It also means that many days consist of research, but the strategies and locations vary. “A typical day on the job can be writing and editing on my computer, digging through boxes of industrial or environmental records at an archive, or researching historic chemical uses online,” Jackie says. An administrative history of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail called for oral histories of the wide range of people who have interacted with the Trail. “That has been an honor, and a lot of fun, too!” Jackie described her conversations with park superintendents and tribal and non-profit leaders.

Jackie is familiar with progress and transition. In four years at Notre Dame she watched sustainability initiatives grow on campus as a result of increased student and faculty involvement. In her own career Jackie went from a seasonal National Park Service employee to a historic research consultant, enjoying different steps along the way. With this in mind Jackie emphasizes the importance of a sustainability-focused network, communication and determination: “Change is possible, progress happens, and student and alumni persistence is an important part of that.”