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A Penn alumna cultivates a career in environmental communication

Mollie Simon

When Mollie Simon (Master of Environmental Studies ‘19) discovered her passion for environmental advocacy, she had nearly completed her undergraduate degree in math. So, she started exploring an environmental career path after college, doing outreach and advocacy for organizations such as the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation. “I’m someone who loves to dive into a project and learn on the go,” she says. Even so, she soon realized that a program like Penn’s Master of Environmental Studies would help her deepen her knowledge and move forward professionally. “I thought, ‘Okay, this is the field I’m going into, and this is what kind of work I want to do. I should probably get some environmental coursework under my belt,’” she recalls.

At Penn, Mollie pursued a degree concentration in environmental policy and rounded out her education with courses that took a global perspective, such as climate change and security, as well as courses as focused as Puerto Rican ecology. “I really loved all the coursework,” she reflects. “I was meeting interesting people. A lot of people who were teaching classes also had exciting professional backgrounds or great careers in places where I would love to work one day.” The first year was challenging, Mollie admits: her full-time job at the Clean Air Council took her to southwest Pennsylvania several times a month, writing papers in transit when necessary. Even then, she says, “I was never the only part-time student with a job in any of my classes. The MES team was always supportive and excited for me.”

In her second year, Mollie began working for the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, then a newly-formed organization focused on energy research and resources. As the Kleinman Center grew, so did Mollie’s role; now, as Communications Coordinator, she manages a range of external communications from newsletters, website content, and social media to preparing publications and making press connections. “Communications work is a little bit like translating research and making it exciting for the public,” she says. “So many of these issues affect everyone. We are all going to be impacted by climate change.” While some energy researchers and experts have media training and know how to boil down their work into talking points, Mollie often needs to tackle dense research papers and citations to understand how best to break down complex information into digestible content: “Why is this breakthrough important? Why is this policy a good idea? Why should a regular person care about this? I like pulling those nuggets out and sharing them,” she says.

Mollie’s pivot from advocacy to communications developed as her role at the Kleinman Center did, and she was able to support her evolving professional goals in the program. “My coursework prepared me insofar as I am knowledgeable and understand the research that we’re bringing into the Center, so I don’t need to play a lot of catch-up,” she says. “I’m familiar with a lot of policy topics just from being immersed in these ideas through the MES program.” She also focused on climate communications in her capstone project, a close study of climate change coverage in local and national publications before and during the Trump administration.

“I’m passionate about energy and climate change, so it’s really cool to work where I get to do both and utilize the communications skill sets that I have,” says Mollie. “I feel grateful that I can work on something I feel connected to.”