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Activating a Sustainability Plan with Nyssa Rivera

Posted on October 30, 2014


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Nyssa Rivera works for the City of Forest Grove, OR. Her column will walk you through the creation and adoption of a sustainability plan.

Activating a Sustainability Plan

By Nyssa Rivera

Two years ago, my dog and I landed in Eugene, Oregon after a four day drive from Houston, TX. I was leaving the smog and sprawl of Houston for the mountains and drizzle of Eugene.

My tiny orange Chevy Cobalt had survived the drive despite all my belongings exceeding the car’s recommended load. My Cobalt and I had survived nights in shady motels, driven through the vast nothingness of the Great Plains, and survived the winding and narrow McKenzie Highway 242.

Queue the Lawyer Jokes

download (5)Prior to landing in Eugene, I had graduated from Texas State University-San Marcos. At that time, the thought of working in local government was not a blip on my radar. My career radar was locked on becoming an attorney.

My first post-undergraduate job was working at a law firm in Houston for two years. This experience taught me a major lesson – being an attorney was not meant for me. The problem with this lesson was it left me without a clear career direction. What was I going to do with my life? How was I going to make a difference?

Finding My True Interest

images (2)I stumbled into the Oregon MPA program with limited knowledge of what an MPA entailed. I mainly knew that people who work for the government often have MPA’s.

Once my classes began I decided that I would take advantage of graduate school life and intern at every public sector organization that was willing to take me.

First, I interned with a non-profit that advocated for environmental issues.

Next, I was a legislative intern for an Oregon State Representative which I enjoyed. However, the life of a legislative aide lacked job stability and being able to only work during the legislative session would make it a difficult career for me to pursue.

Then the summer after my first year of grad school I interned with the City of Lake Oswego. While I enjoyed my time interning with the non-profit and the Oregon State Legislature, it was working in Lake Oswego when I found my true interest – local government. My time in Lake Oswego brought to light the the myriad of services that local governments provide to its citizens. I also realized that if I chose local government as a profession I would never be bored. People describe working in local government in a number of way, but monotonous is not one of them.

How I Ended Up Working on a Sustainability Plan

After my stint in Lake Oswego, I returned to Eugene to complete my MPA. I continued to think about where I would head after finishing my MPA and applied for the Hatfield Fellowship through Portland State University. The Fellowship places individuals from around the country, who have recently completed their Master’s or Ph.D., within public organizations throughout Oregon. Fortunately, I was selected as a Fellow, but I still had to find an organization that was willing to sponsor me. With the financial strains that local governments were facing finding a sponsor was not an easy task. Thankfully the staff at PSU found a perfect landing spot with the City of Forest Grove.

download (6)Forest Grove wanted me to work on updating and gaining Council adoption of their Sustainability Action Plan. In 2013, the Council had accepted the Plan, but chose not formally adopted it for implementation. I was excited by the challenge despite being relatively new to the sustainability world. I have quickly realized that sustainability is a growing and trending topic in local government. Through a series of blog postings I will share my experience in gaining support for adoption of a sustainability. My hope is you will gain useful knowledge and tips for creating a plan of your own.

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