Emma Wasson has always been interested in social justice issues and the natural world around her. Through a combination of education, volunteering, hard work and dedication, her career has developed in line with her environmental interests and passions.
Currently the State Operations Manager for The Wilderness Society in Tasmania, Emma talks to UON about her journey so far and where she hopes to take her career next.
Can you tell me a little about your role at The Wilderness Society - what do you enjoy most about it?
I have been in this role at the Wilderness Society for 12 months but I have been working with the organisation for the last three years. In my current job I work as part of the National Business Operations Committee to improve and streamline the organisation's systems and processes. I enjoy working on projects that make campaigns more effective. I also enjoy dedicating some time to support the campaign to extend Tasmania’s World Heritage Area to include the Tarkine in the North West. Part of my work with this involves recruitment, training and coordination of new and existing volunteers who are integral to how we operate. It’s always interesting to meet new people and I enjoy engaging others with meaningful work to be active participants in social and environmental change.
I love working for The Wilderness Society and the strong values it upholds. I like being able to contribute to a mission that protects life and precious habitats and that opposes unnecessary developments in bio-diverse areas.
I enjoy the creative aspect of working for a non-government organisation, as we often have to come up with unique ways of bringing our projects to the attention of the community. I recently enjoyed working with an artist to create a six-metre long platypus puppet for a community festival!
Can you describe the career path that took you to this level of environmental leadership at The Wilderness Society?
My journey started at the University of Newcastle (UON). As an undergraduate I studied social science, tourism and recreation and my intention was initially to open an eco-holiday retreat on completion of my studies. By the time I was enrolled in the Masters of Environment and Business Management in 2007, I had become an active member of the Newcastle University Student Association (NUSA). I became a key driver of the successful Clean Energy Campaign on campus that saw among other things, UON commit to a Sustainable Energy and C02 Reduction policy, which included a commitment to purchase 10% renewable energy. This was the beginning of my experience in campaigning and I quickly realised how much I loved this type of work and that I wanted to be an environmental campaigner and change-maker.
Whilst studying for my masters I also took up a Business Administration Trainee role with Newcastle City Council, which enabled me to complete a Certificate IV in Business Administration, in the Environment and Climate Change Services Unit. This experience was great for my career development as it helped me gain practical clerical skills, and gave me a valuable foot in the door to working on a variety of environmental education projects.
Following my role at NCC I worked as a project coordinator for a number of environmental service and education providers always working voluntarily on some kind of side project that would develop a skill or related work experience.
I also gained valuable experience of what it is like at the head of an organisation as Executive Assistant to the CEO of Greenpeace Australia. My next challenge was with The Wilderness Society in 2013 as a Community Organiser. Two years later I secured the role as State Operations Manager thanks to my passion and experience in change management, project and volunteer coordination.
You are obviously very passionate about the environment - can you describe how your career has intertwined with your interests? Do you have any advice for others looking to pursue a career in this industry?
After I discovered the type of work I was passionate about by volunteering with grassroots environmental community groups and running campaigns I cared about, I found ways to pursue this line of work whole-heartedly with dedication and commitment. Studying has also played an important role in my career and personal development to date.
In 2011 I channeled my interest and passion for social change to help others become more effective environmental campaigners by co-founding a project called ‘Make Change Happen’. This voluntary project evolved from finding like-minded people to work with during a fellowship program at the Centre for Sustainability Leadership.
In terms of advice to others looking to succeed in this field – you have to love what you do and get involved! It is also important to work with and learn from people who challenge, support and inspire you. I have been lucky to have many great mentors on my journey so far.
I think an important lesson is always to stay open minded and not be too wedded to a certain idea of what you want to do. Life sometimes takes you in a different direction to what you expected as it did for me - and that can be a wonderful thing!
I can see that learning has played an important part in your life - can you tell me why? How has your masters helped your career? How did you fit studying into your life?
I think continual learning is important in every type of career. My masters at the University of Newcastle certainly opened doors for me and got me reading more widely, thinking critically and helped me to understand the sorts of environmental issues I wanted to get involved in and how to go about that.
I was also lucky to have a very passionate lecturer at UON, Glenn Albrecht who taught a subject called environmental values and ethics, which helped me to define my own values and beliefs for what I would stand for.
Studying for my masters at the same time as being employed to complete a certificate IV in Business Administration meant I did have a busy couple of years. It helped that I lived, worked and studied in close proximity, helping me to save time in transit. My study timetable also included evening classes so it was flexible enough to fit around full-time work.
What career goals are you yet to achieve? What is next for you?
I have many projects I still want to complete and will continue building my career to work for fantastic NGOs like The Wilderness Society in the future.
I’m soon to take a career break to go back to study and complete a Graduate Diploma in Teaching. I come from a family of teachers and I think from a career perspective I want to get back to basics and build potential and opportunity in the lives of young people for social good. I’m still finding ways to make a difference where I can and I think helping children develop curiosity about nature and a wish to protect it, will contribute to the social transformation we need to protect their future on our planet.
In the time between further study I intend to continue working on the Make Change Happen project and have a go at running my first crowd funding campaign to raise funds for building houses with water tanks in Vanuatu after the island was hit by cyclone Pam.
I also love yoga so will continue to complete more teacher training which I may also one day take into primary schools.
No doubt I will find myself continuing my career working on an environmental education program for a charity in the future.
Master of Environmental and Business Management graduate Emma Wasson has combined her professional career with interests in social justice and nature.
After I discovered the type of work I was passionate about by volunteering with grassroots environmental community groups and running campaigns I cared about, I found ways to pursue this line of work whole-heartedly.
The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.