It seems most everyone has a story that follows the same general pattern.  You finish school, but your first job is not your “career job”.  Then, suddenly, you land that job that starts you on a path that you have no idea where it’s going to take you some 40+ years later.  But it’s a story you often think about: “the how did I get here” story and our classmate Lisa Plevin shares hers: 

After graduating from college with a B.S. in Environmental Science (a fairly new field at that time), I decided to follow a friend to Florida and look for a job there.  The only problem was that this was at the same time that the Reagan Administration decided to drastically cut all those brand-new environmental laws and regulations – so there were no available jobs in my field.  Therefore, I became an “environmental” waitress and then an “environmental” cocktail waitress. 

Unhappy in Florida, I returned to New Jersey, where I answered a newspaper ad for canvassers for an environmental group called the League of Conservation Voters (LCV).  My mother was horrified – thinking that I was wasting my college education, basically selling steak knives door-to-door.  I worked for LCV for just about a year or two, before they closed their New Jersey office.  There, however, I came to really appreciate that one of the most effective ways to protect our environment was to elect (and re-elect) good people who cared about these issues.  Unbeknownst to me, I think at that time my interests pivoted from focusing on the science (think field work and laboratories) to the public policy and government side of environmental protection.  As FYI, LCV would come back to New Jersey several decades later, as the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.

After LCV, I worked for another environmental group, Clean Water Action Project, for about eight years. With them, I learned how to do community organizing, conduct lobbying sessions and coordinate press conferences, among other skills. Clean Water also had a Political Action Committee, which endorsed candidates and actively worked to help them get elected.  It was on one of these campaigns for an Assemblyperson in Bergen County, where in the early 1990’s I met someone who worked for US Senator Frank Lautenberg.

It turns out there was an opening in his Newark office for a Director of Constituent Services, and I began my sixteen- year career with Senator Lautenberg.  My mother was no longer horrified.  After a few years, I became his Projects Director and then spent the last seven years as his Deputy State Director.  As you may know, Senator Lautenberg was truly an environmental champion, and I was incredibly fortunate to be able to play a role in these accomplishments.

I was then selected as a Political Appointee of President Obama, to serve as Chief of Staff for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for Region 2 (NY/New Jersey/Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands).  This was my first time working for a government agency, and once you figure out how to cut through the red tape of bureaucracy, there’s a lot that you can accomplish.  I spent seven very rewarding years at EPA and unfortunately when a new Administration came into office in 2017, I was asked to leave this position. 

Luckily, following this, Governor Murphy was elected, and I became the new Executive Director of the New Jersey Highlands Council.  The Council is a small state agency tasked with protecting the natural resources of the Highlands Region.  I served here for four years before deciding last year that I was ready to stop setting my alarm clock in the morning.

Although technically “retired,” I have a full schedule of local activities and projects, including serving on the Parsippany Environmental Advisory Committee, on the Parsippany Green Team and the Parsippany Democratic Committee. And of course, traveling and spending time with friends and family.  Most of my extended family is still in the area and I have maintained friendships (and made some new ones) with quite a few friends from Livingston.

Also, in that ironic “coming full-circle” kind of way – I just joined the Board of Directors of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. I’m so grateful that I was able to spend most of my career working on issues that I’m passionate about and am looking forward to seeing what comes next!