June 22, 2018
When we heard that Arizona State University School of Sustainability alumna Haley Paul became Audubon Arizona’s new policy manager, we knew we had to catch up with her. Paul graduated with a Master of Science in sustainability with a thesis examining the 1980 Groundwater Management Act and its impact on agriculture in south-central Arizona. After receiving her degree, she went on to work in fields related to water resources and water conservation before landing at Audubon Arizona in April 2018.
Paul answered several questions for us including how she became interested in sustainability and advice she has for current ASU sustainability students.
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you received a degree in?
Answer: When I was working on an organic student-run farm during my undergraduate degree at Washington State University and finishing up my anthropology degree, I realized that the study of humans is very much the study of how humans use their natural resources wisely (or not) in order to sustain their livelihoods, culture and society. I thought about getting a master’s degree in anthropology to study that further, but there was no master’s in anthropology at ASU. But there was this new school called the School of Sustainability and they had a lot of cross-listed professors with the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. I applied, got in, and had the privilege to work in Professor Marty Anderies’s research lab.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: While interviewing farmers and water policy practitioners for my thesis research I quickly realized that the issue you are examining is so much more nuanced than it appears at first glance. It takes time to understand complex issues, so ask questions and seek to understand before you start to draw conclusions.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those currently studying (or interested in studying) sustainability at ASU?
A: Try to narrow in a little bit on what you might want to focus on in the field. Sustainability is so big, and the problems in need of tackling so many, that narrowing in a bit can help you hit the ground running in your coursework. It can help you tailor where possible your classes and kick start your thesis or final graduation project. Ask questions, visit with professors during office hours, seek to understand. As you near graduation or during your coursework, meet people who are working in the field you want to work in. Take them to coffee. Asking questions after you have taken the time to read about a topic that that person might be interested in demonstrates that you are studying, that you are inquisitive, and that you want to understand further. In general, I found that people are receptive to students wanting to learn more and get a foot in the door.
Q: What inspired you to work for Audubon Arizona?
A: I had always watched Audubon Arizona from afar, keeping tabs on what they were promoting and the work they were doing. I had gone to a few Birds and Beer events, because who doesn’t like learning about conservation with a glass of Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company beer in your hand!? But the main reason I wanted to work for Audubon Arizona was because a few years back I remember them hosting some webinars on the Law of the (Colorado) River and thinking, “Hmm. An environmental organization that is demonstrating to their members and followers the reality of water law in the West and how you have to understand the existing structure in order to work within it and affect change...” Then I saw the posting for Policy Manager one night on LinkedIn and the rest is history!
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: What a fantastic question to ask a Sustainability graduate! I would probably go local and try to buy strategic land areas from willing sellers where important habitat, open space and agricultural lands could be preserved, and some of the water rights tied to that land could be secured for in-stream environmental flows to sustain riparian habitat. But maybe that’s just the new job talking!
Follow Haley Paul’s sustainability musings on Twitter @haleyepaul.