Candace Lee '14

Major: Environmental Analysis in Geology 
Profession: Senior Environmental Specialist
Hometown: Los Angeles, California 

What are you doing now?

I am a senior environmental specialist for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). As a senior environmental specialist, I work to ensure Metro is in compliance with the many environmental and sustainability laws and regulations applicable to the public transportation agency. My primary projects include the Purple Line Extension (Segment 1) and Maintenance Facility construction projects and Metro’s Climate Action Adaptation Plan update. These projects require me to brainstorm and manage the proper implementation of a number of environmental aspects that contractors must apply to protect community and worker safety while ushering in new sustainable and resilient infrastructure for Angelenos. From CEQA/NEPA compliance to groundwater remediation and bee hive removal, I manage the successful completion of important environmental tasks on mega infrastructure projects. I help build the future of Los Angeles.

How did you get there?

For years, even before attending Pomona, I’d decided on entering the environmental field with hopes of working as a water conservation advocate. As a native Angeleno I have seen firsthand how an environmental issue, such as a water shortage, can and will change the habits of a city. In my early days as a Pomona College student, I believed that I would do the 3+2 engineering program to pursue an environmental engineering degree. I thought that engineering was the only path to changing LA’s complicated resource management system. However, after finding new interest in geology and natural systems science, I decided to change course since it fit my path more precisely.

This choice was validated when in my junior year of college I interned at Metro in the same department I work in now, the Environmental Compliance and Sustainability Department. I’d trained under a geologist who exposed me to the many opportunities that could be opened to me with a geologist’s knowledge base. Continuing my college career on the environmental science and geology path, while maintaining my relationships at the agency helped me to find my way back and eventually helped me to the position I am in today. Though my job is much broader than just water conservation, it encompasses all I’d hoped to achieve as a student.

How did Pomona prepare you?

Pomona taught me how to think, how to question and how to want more for the world. I appreciate how unashamed the student body was to believe in what they wanted and speak up, whatever the subject. The exposure to students and ideas that came from all over the world helped me to open my mind and focus my career path more. Beyond that, it gave me space to pursue my interests in my own time in spaces that I could feel comfortable in.

Additionally, and it’s funny to admit this, but I’d say my position as a resident assistant helped me a lot to understand what role I’d like to play once entering the workforce. So much of being a resident assistant was about managing people, their needs, their environment and the rules that governed them. Very close to what I do now as an environmental specialist. I had to come up with real solutions and ideas that impacted the people who I lived with and helped navigate Pomona. I probably gained my most practical skills through this job. 

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’m all in on my current career and path. In five years I will have completed working on my first major billion dollar project (Purple Line) and onto the next major construction project either as a regulator or consultant. I plan to have my master's in landscape architecture and planning and will have my Project Management Professional certification.

Any advice for prospective or current students?

If something interests you, even if it’s just a little inkling, go for it. I took a geology class because I had a small interest in archeology and needed to complete a science requirement. I’m happy I took the chance when so many of my peers took the more traditional routes of chemistry and biology. Today, as a part of my job, I manage a team of archeologists and paleontologists who dig up pieces of history from 80 feet underground in the middle of Los Angeles. I’ve touched paleontological finds from millions of years in the past and I get to build a future that will help illuminate even more of our environmental history. Don't be afraid to be out of the box. You'll be grateful that you chose the path less traveled.