2020 is the official Year of the Woman! Although I believe every year should be the Year of the Woman, this year is special because it marks the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in America (and [wo]man what a 100 years it has been!). The Alliance will be celebrating the female-driven achievements of the past 100 years by sharing blog posts throughout 2020 dedicated to female leaders who are near and dear to our hearts. We will be focusing on women in the Chesapeake Bay region, as well as environmental enthusiasts, scientists, water lovers, and all things Chesapeake Bay related. 

This is why I interviewed Kristin Reilly, the director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition in Annapolis, MD. I was curious how Kristin Reilly got to where she is today, so I first asked her what sparked her interest in the environmental field. She said, “I can’t really pinpoint a single moment in time when I knew I wanted to work in the environmental sector/movement. I think I just always had something inside me that had a passion for it. However, I do think the fact that I had the privilege of spending most of my childhood running around and playing outside helped…for some reason I found a lot of joy collecting rainwater in all of the recycling cans and bottles my family had in the bin. I was slowing down stormwater runoff and didn’t even know it!”

As Kristin got older, she continued to find ways to experience the natural world l while expanding her knowledge through her studies. In highschool, Kristin went above and beyond by starting a four-year physical, biological, and chemical monitoring study of her local creek, Seneca Creek in Montgomery County, Maryland. She used this study and the data it produced to compete all four years in the county and state-wide science fairs. 

Kristin’s first position out of college was working with the Chesapeake Research Consortium as a staffer for the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program. Speaking about her first job, Kristin said, “It was essentially a dream job for me. I honestly would not be where I am today had I not had that job and I am so grateful for what it has taught me.”

As many of the younger women in the Chesapeake Bay restoration world look up to Kristin as a current role model, I asked her who she considered a role model for her. Kristin is thankful for the current female leaders in her work field who she feels lucky to get the chance to work and talk with on a daily basis. “There are far more female role models and leaders in this Chesapeake community than there were when I started 10 years ago, and I think that has been a major benefit to our work overall.”

Growing up, Kristin found a role model in her own mother, “My mother was the only female architect working for a large hotel company in Bethesda, Maryland. I didn’t learn until much later in life everything that she had to endure and overcome in that position, but she has always been such a strong person in my eyes and I think I get a lot of my ‘spunk’ from her.”

Kristin plans on celebrating this year, no differently than she would any other year. She hopes to pass along the inspiration that she got from other empowering female leaders in the work field. She said, “I am really passionate about supporting other women, especially those who are just starting out. I was just so lucky to have inspiring and powerful women around me during those formative years of my career and I want to try and repay that favor to this next generation.” 

One of the powerful women who she is referring to is Carin Bisland, the Branch Chief of Partnerships and Accountability for EPA Chesapeake Bay Program.

“I was lucky to have worked with Carin Bisland, who was my first supervisor at the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Office, right out of college. Not knowing what it was like to work in the professional world prior to that position, she taught me so much. She and I were often the only woman in the room during high-level meetings, and I think it was important for me at that early time in my career to see someone like her navigate those situations and I was inspired by her on a daily basis.” 

Another inspiring woman who impacted Kristin and her career is Molly Alton Mullins. 

“Molly Alton Mullins, who I worked with at the Chesapeake Bay Trust, has probably had one of the biggest impacts on who I am as a person and as a director today. She was a powerhouse who could raise $50,000 before noon, write multiple press releases, and be there to pick up her kids and get them to practice early. She taught me really critical lessons on the importance of hard work paying off, asking for what you want/deserve, and work-life balance.”

Kristin mentioned her family as also being very formative in how she became the person she is today, not only with her aspirations in life, but also her closeness to this specific work. 

“Working to save the Chesapeake Bay is not just a job for me, it is personal. This is part of my grandfather’s legacy, my family, and something that calls to me. My grandfather had been part of the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration, which eventually turned into the Environmental Protection Agency, and he also helped to write the Clean Water Act of 1972. He spent his whole career working for the EPA and clean water. That call, that drive – that is what helps me overcome the doubters, the critics, and the people who judge me by what they see. I encourage everyone to find that drive in their lives, harness it, and create the change you want to see in this world.”

Kristin has an amazing drive that I know she will be able to pass along to younger women who aspire to be where Kristin is today in her career. If Kristin could pass along any advice to other women it would be to, “Never be afraid to ask for and/or go after what you want. You won’t always be successful, but you will grow and learn until you are.” She also advises younger women early in their career to “Find someone who inspires you or someone who has the role that you eventually want and create a relationship with them. Cultivate it and learn from that person. Their knowledge and experience is invaluable and will help you get where you want to go.”

Kristin Reilly is the Director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition in Annapolis, MD.