Southern Oregon University has hired Rebecca Walker, who has worked for the past 15 years with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, to serve as the university’s new sustainability and recycling manager. She will begin at SOU on Friday, Nov. 8.
Her mother is from Maine, but Walker has spent most of her life in Scotland and gained an appreciation for environmental work and nature.
“I am in awe of the beauty of nature and our world,” Walker said. “We are here temporarily for a very short time and it feels right that when we are here, we should be acting in a way that ensures future generations will also see and enjoy such a beautiful place…. I wanted to be part of this.”
She received her master’s degree in environmental technology in 2001 from the University of London. She began working in the field and then in 2004 found a long-term employer in the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
SEPA is a public agency of the Scottish government that focuses on the sustainability of Scotland’s natural resources and services. It tests pollution levels, develops and enacts legislation, partners with other agencies to make the environment a priority, and even runs Scotland’s flood warning system.
Walker started with SEPA as a technical support officer, reviewing policy and supporting waste strategy area coordinators. She then became a waste strategy area coordinator and eventually worked her way up to the head of materials and sector planning. Her responsibilities included setting priorities, implementing policy, mentoring newer employees, managing budgets and coordinating with businesses – all while running four waste and landfill teams from a previous position.
“SEPA has been a brilliant place to work for 15 years of my career and I have had various roles in climate change, circular economy, management and senior leadership,” Walker said.
But she didn’t want to stay with SEPA forever and felt the time was right for a change.
“Something I have always believed is that change and pushing boundaries outside our comfort zone is how we grow,” Walker said. “I have worked in government for most of my career and so the idea of doing something different is exciting.”
With U.S. citizenship and “the desire to have a change of job and lifestyle,” she started looking for jobs in America and particularly in higher education.
“What particularly attracted me to education is the opportunity to work with those who are our future,” she said. “Not only do students have new, fresh and energetic ideas on how to tackle problems but they are also the future innovators, entrepreneurs, workers, teachers … and if sustainability is built into everything we do as a society and in our work and it is no longer an afterthought, real progress can and will be made.”
SOU’s previous sustainability and recycling manager, Roxane Beigel-Coryell, left the university in July to take a similar position at California State University, Channel Islands. The vacant position attracted more than 30 applicants – “one of the strongest applicant pools for searches that I’ve conducted recently,” said Drew Gilliland, director of the Facilities, Maintenance and Planning Department.
He described Walker’s application and presentation as “outstanding,” and she was hired for the position.
“When I was researching for my interview, I was overwhelmed with what had been achieved to date,” Walker said. “My predecessor has (left) big shoes to fill and the students were energized and active in so many areas of sustainability. To be part of this and to build on this is exciting.”
SOU recently received a prestigious “Excellence and Innovation Award” for sustainability from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The university’s numerous other awards and recognitions for sustainability practices include an honorable mention two years ago at the Presidential Climate Leadership Summit and the national Best Case Study sustainability award in 2015 from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
“My initial plan is to talk to as many students and staff as possible to understand their views of the opportunities, challenges and barriers (to sustainability),” Walker said. “I am keen to work … with staff and students to look at our long term goals and the actions we need to put in place to achieve these and to look at this holistically in terms of where we focus our efforts.”
Some of those goals include improving the management of plastic, food and electronic waste. But Walker said it will take many people on various fronts to effectively address the problems of sustainability and climate change.
“We need to try things, push boundaries and see where it takes us,” she said.
Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer