By Dan Thiede
March 1, 2017
The Minnesota Women in Energy series highlights influential women who are part of our state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. CERTs is highlighting these leaders during the month of March in 2017, which is Women’s History Month.
As part of the series we interviewed Jothsna Harris, Public Engagement Manager at Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, to learn more about her work, what inspires her, and how other women can get involved in the industry. Read on to learn more!
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do in the energy world in Minnesota?
I’m the Public Engagement Manager at Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. My primary role is to lead planning and implementation efforts for Climate Generation’s public engagement work. Most recently through an education project called Climate Minnesota: Local Stories Community Solutions, designed to spark social cohesion and community solutions to climate change. Through Climate Minnesota, I helped to coordinate 12 public convenings, held in local communities across the state, each featuring a locally relevant approach for building understanding on climate change. Climate Minnesota Convenings provided a combination of science, stories shared by community members, and solutions workshops with tangible next steps for engagement. Understanding that energy is a critical solution to climate change, all of the Convenings had workshops on energy led by local organizations, utilities, and state agencies such as the Department of Commerce to share opportunities for renewables, efficiency and conservation.
How did you get into this work?
I did not come into work on energy through a traditional pathway. In 2011 I had the unique experience of traveling for five months in Italy with my husband and two children through the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) Organization. Over a period of five months, we worked on two organic farms, where we assisted with sustainable agriculture practices. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this journey became a catalyst for quite a few changes in our family. Today we are more conscious of how much we consume, what we eat and how sustainable we are. The experience also motivated me to pursue my passion and transition from working in financial aid to finding a position in the environmental field. Back in Minnesota, everything seemed to change to reflect the new passions we discovered when we were farming. We downsized, became active in our local a community garden, and I joined the Minnesota GreenCorps, an AmeriCorps program run by the MPCA. As a Minnesota GreenCorps Conservation Member, I was partnered with Burnsville-Eagan-Savage Public Schools to increase energy conservation within the district. During my service, I aligned my efforts with others who were passionate about changing behaviors around energy usage. Together, we launched a multi-pronged energy conservation campaign, engaging 9,200 youth, district employees and community members. The campaign saved 154,402 kWh, which translated to $55,000 in avoided energy costs over the course of the year. It was through this year of service I was able to network and partner with other local organizations, including Climate Generation. While it felt risky, my decision to pursue the Minnesota GreenCorps program led to my transition into the work that I feel privileged to do today with Climate Generation.
What is a typical day like for you?
My typical day starts with catching up on current events and relevant articles on climate change. Post-election there has been a surge in important coverage around the issue of climate change and clean energy policy. It is an especially important time to understand the political landscape, and to be able to recognize challenges and opportunities – what I have come to understand is that progress on advancing clean energy in the next four years will likely be driven at the local level, and that’s the arena that I’m typically operating within.
My day to day work is varied, but it is mostly outward facing, usually involving a great deal of person-to-person interaction and collaboration with community members, partner organizations or state government agencies. I also spend quite a bit of time coaching individuals on finding and developing their climate story, which they can then share through public presentations, special projects or in our online Climate Storytelling Collection.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
Climate change is an enormous issue. As with any social movement there are ebbs and flows. Working in the climate movement requires a great deal of patience, persistence and optimism. Staying current on the news and latest research is an important part of what I do, yet it is a fine balance of knowing enough, but not so much that I am completely overwhelmed. I have come to the realization that I will never know it all, and I’ll likely never view myself as an expert – and I am glad for that. I believe my power to create change actually lies in my willingness to lead with concern and curiosity, to listen to others, and to be an engaged citizen.
What about your job inspires you?
I am inspired by the diverse network of community champions that we have here in Minnesota, from decision-makers to our high school youth, who are vehemently working towards climate change solutions in energy, policy, waste reduction, water and more. I am also motivated by the people in the world who don’t have the privilege of doing work to create a better future – because their current reality is demanding it now. Hearing these stories of adversity, resilience and tireless dedication to this issue is what fuels my momentum.
What advice do you have for women who are thinking about working in energy?
Be open-minded and willing to think outside of the box. Many areas in the environmental field are overlapping, so you will most likely be collaborating with others and that can lead to future work. From my experience, the work that you were meant to do has a way of making itself known to you in the dynamic, fast-paced and evolving nature of this field. Be opportunistic. Get out there and network; build relationships. Even if you are not good at networking, challenge yourself to push past your comfort zone and meet people. Get your 30-second (non-intimidating) elevator speech down and get out there and share it. Collect business cards and follow up with the people who were most interesting to you. Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of volunteering – when you are willing to do work for free, others can more easily recognize your passion and commitment.
Read the full article online here.