The two most important things that will happen in your career are finding your passion, and finding an already accomplished figure in your field to shape your career after. I remember when I found my passion. I quietly sat in the back of an overpriced taxi when my father told me that Global Climate Change was going to negatively alter life on this planet. The day after that I went into my 6th grade classroom, walked up to the smartest kid in the room, and told him that he was going to work with me to find a way to stop Global Warming. Even as I write this now I can see the naivety in my words, but my raison d etre was clear, I was meant to fight for the protection of the environment. While my plan to completely halt Climate Change in it’s tracks failed, I did take my passion for the environment into high school.

High school is when I realized that I needed to find someone already accomplished in the field to model my path after. I spent a Thursday afternoon in my school’s library when I decided to search for an environmental leader to emulate in the public sector. I initially found a few pundits, but they were white and with privileged backgrounds. I understood that my discipline was full of people who didn’t look like me, but having someone that shared my African American identity was important to me. I continued searching and finally stumbled upon the name Lisa Jackson, who at the time was the Administrator of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. Not only was she African American, but a first generation student as well. Her intersecting identities were synonymous with my own, and that gave me the inspiration I needed to continue in the field. Although our skills are a bit different, her being a chemical engineer by training and I a policy analyst at the completion of my degree, our passion for the environment is the same.

With my passion and personal hero discovered, I thought it only fitting that I tried to meet former Administrator Jackson. I got that opportunity this past summer and talked to her about my own path towards global environmental leadership. The former administrator advised me on the path I laid before her and gave me a few helpful nuggets that only a sage like her could. This interaction was pivotal for my career, and I’m only a senior in college.

Although I am still in college my career has already begun, and beginning it out with a meeting with someone I idolized since high school isn’t a bad start. I encourage first generation students to find a figure to emulate and make a connection with as well. Once the two important events have transpired, you will be able to excel in your first gen experience.