Senior Research Analyst with Environmental Defense
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Jennifer Pitt
became interested in landscape history. Specifically,
she became enthralled with the work of Frederick
Law Olmsted, the co-designer of New York City’s
Central Park, and she began to study parks and their
impact on urban settings. So it only made sense that
after graduation Pitt moved to New York and signed
on to work for the city’s park department.
“But I found out it had to do more with maintenance than anything else,” she
says with a smile.
Fortunately, Pitt met an employee of the National
Parks department while she was working in New York.
He suggested that she become a park ranger. So,
during the summers of 1990 and 1991, Pitt served
as an Interpretive Ranger at Mesa Verde National
Park in Colorado. It was during that time that
Pitt attended a Semester in the Rockies with NOLS.
“I dove head in,” she says. “It was an awful lot of fun and
a really good challenge. One of the most memorable feelings I took away from
the course was getting into my sleeping bag and curling up and just feeling at
home. It was a feeling I had never had before — being that exposed and
without possession and yet feeling that comfortable. I don’t know that
I’ve been able to preserve it as working professional, but the treasure
of that memory I try to preserve.”
The following fall, Pitt entered graduate school
at Yale and earned a M.E.S., while focusing her
studies on water and river management. After earning
her degree, Pitt served as a biological technician
at California’s Sequoia National
Park. The next year, she worked as a legislative assistant for Office of U.S.
Representative Mike Kopetski in Washington, D.C. Afterward, she was hired to
be a program manager on the Rivers, Trails and Conversation Assistance Program
for the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., from 1994 to 1998.
Now Pitt works full-time for Environmental Defense
in the Rocky Mountain Regional Office, focusing
her efforts on the restoration of the Colorado
River ecosystem, an ecosystem that affects seven
states and Mexico and supplies water everywhere
from Denver to L.A. to Tijuana, irrigating millions
of acres of agriculture and generating large amounts
of hydropower annually. For Pitt, dealing with
large, complicated issues is part of the fun of
“I like to look at complexity and unpack it to see what real issues are,” she
says. “It allows me to keep my head on straight and to get into the intricacies
of each situation. The biggest dread of a job I would have is being bored. The
complexity keeps me on my toes and learning something new every day.”
Pitt says that open communication and the example of expedition behavior
that she learned at NOLS are critical to the success of her job.
“In order for me to be an effective advocate for protecting and restoring
the river environment, I need to understand the needs and interests of all river
users,” she explains.
Environmentalists generally don’t get
asked to have a seat at the table. I have to find a way to gain the ear
of all these other stakeholders who generally have
the upper hand in the decision making. I also try
to keep environmental non-profits together on various
issues. I manage an annual meeting between U.S. and
Mexico non-profits where we gather together, listen
to each other and allow for organization around issues.
Using a facilitative style of leadership is key to
— J.L. Bibb