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Environmental Engineer

By Nancy J. Mellem

Name: Paul Ruesch

Paul Ruesch
Company: United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5
Job Title: Environmental Engineer
Education: BS in Civil Engineering, University of Notre Dame

How long have you been at your job and what do you do there?
I have been working at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5, for just over 12 years as an environmental engineer in the solid waste program. Region 5 includes the states of Minnesota , Wisconsin , Illinois , Indiana , Ohio and Michigan . I work with industries, state and local environmental officials, non-governmental organizations, and ordinary citizens to implement the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Some of my specific projects include increasing the beneficial use of industrial byproducts such as coal ash from power plants, establishing enforcement and prevention programs in cities targeting illegal dumpers, and developing end-use markets for recyclable materials such as used tires and roofing shingles.

What's the best aspect of your job?
The best part of my job is working with individuals at all different levels of community, industry and government. On any given day, I may be in contact with a concerned parent, the vice president of an environmental program at a major corporation, the director of a state environmental program, or even a member of Congress. This variety enables me to understand environmental concerns from many different perspectives, which gives me the ability to be more effective at my job.

What's more important: salary or job satisfaction?
Your job usually takes up the majority of any given day or week; if you are not interested in and satisfied with your work, you are cheating yourself out of a rewarding and happy life. There is no amount of money that can make up for being bored all day.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?
"Show me, don't tell me." You should apply your expertise by getting directly involved in projects and demonstrating what you are trying to accomplish. By taking this advice, I've been able to improve my approach by learning directly from my successes and failures. In addition, I have forged many strategic partnerships and friendships that have made our organization more effective and my job experience much more rewarding.

What's the best way a fresh-out-of-college employee can impress you during their first week on the job?
A new employee should introduce him or herself, show a sincere interest in the organization and their co-workers by asking questions about what people are working on, and they should actively seek ways to contribute and add value to the organization.

How did you learn to work with staff members outside of your department?
I tagged along in the field and into meetings with co-workers who were already involved in projects with other departments. I observed their approach, their work dynamic, and looked at the results of collaborative projects. I found that the most effective employees were those that had earned the trust and respect of others by following through on commitments and maintaining personal integrity during times of conflict or disagreement.

What trait do you admire in co-workers?
I admire commitment to the mission and goals of our Section.

How do you relieve job frustration?
I get outside and enjoy the environment I am working so hard to protect by trail running, biking, hiking or snow boarding. I also read fiction outside of work as a diversion from the technical reports and articles. Finally, I keep my sense of humor during controversial or problematic times by laughing at myself and with others.

What one thing do you know now that you wish you could have known when you first started your job?
It's important to be patient. Something that makes complete practical, technical and financial sense may still take more than 10 years to be completely understood and embraced by a large organization. Be prepared to endure and persist through many trials to prove the viability of a concept, practice or technology in order to enact change.

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