In my final spring semester of college, I had an idea of where I wanted to be but no idea how to get there or if I was even ready for it. I found the Chesapeake Conservation Corps (CCC) fellowship by chance buried in the bottom of an email sent out to everyone in my major (Environmental Sciences), and it seemed ideal for where I was at the time. Before this, I had not considered entering a professional development program at all. 

I graduated from the University of Virginia in May 2020 during the height of the pandemic in a virtual ceremony, so I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful about the future at that time. All I could think about were the friends and internship that I had to leave in March when grounds were shut down. When I heard that I got the fellowship placement at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, I felt like I actually had something to look forward to again in a time when everything felt unstable and uncertain. I would get the opportunity to learn and work alongside environmental professionals for a year – something that would look incredible on my resume! I had no idea about the things that I would learn and how this experience would shape me professionally and as a person. 

Working with the staff at the Alliance has been such an enriching experience. I was expecting that I would mostly be working under, or shadowing individual staff, but I have been treated as an equal colleague from the very beginning. Asking me for my perspective and encouraging me to take ownership of project aspects and assignments built my self-confidence in my ability to do things I never thought were possible. Knowing that I am capable of producing impactful work when presented with challenges is the most wonderful thing that I could have learned about myself this past year, at a time when I sorely needed it. 

Mel water quality monitoring in D.C. Photo credit: Jordan Gochenaur

Part of the requirements for this fellowship is that each CCC’er must plan and lead their own capstone project. With staff support, I became certified as a Water Quality Monitor and decided to focus my capstone project on expanding the Alliance’s RiverTrends program to Washington, DC. Throughout this work, I got to spend time with colleagues out in the sunshine while I familiarized myself with DC and some of the beautiful green spaces in Wards 7 and 8. Whenever I am outside each month testing water quality on the Anacostia River, or at a site visit meeting new partners that are excited about the type of work that we do, I can’t help but feel insanely lucky to have gotten the opportunity to be in these spaces doing what I love. 

Mel with a group of other Chesapeake Conservation Corps Members. Photo credit: Katherine Phillips, Maryland Coastal Bays

Who I was just less than a year ago feels leagues away from the person that I am now, but in the best way possible. While training and skills are certainly essential to my career, feeling welcomed and supported during your early professional experiences can change everything for you. I am appreciative of my Alliance colleagues for their guidance and am excited to apply what I learned to wherever I end up going next!