Alumni Spotlight: Julia Lakes

Julia Lakes
Landscape and Livelihood ‘08
Hometown: San Anselmo, CA


Why did you choose to do a field program with SVC?

I chose to do a field program with SVC because I wanted to dig in deep.  As a suburban kid who always had a love for wild places, natural history, and the connections between people and place, I saw the program as a way to build on these passions and interests.  I didn’t know what exactly to expect, but the program certainly changed the trajectory of my life both personally and professionally. 

One of your greatest takeaways from the program:

My biggest takeaway from my time in the Swan is that nothing is black and white – for example: logging is not inherently “bad” nor is it inherently “good.”  This may seem simple, but it’s a concept that has proved extremely useful throughout my professional and personal life navigating rural land conservation and the balances between landscape and livelihood.  Many of the environmental ideals that I held when I came to the Swan were turned on their heads. In the Swan I learned that issues are more complex than I had previously thought, and that it’s critical to listen to (and consider) all sides of an issue.  Standing in a recent timber harvest in the Swan with a logger who did the harvest and an environmentalist who opposed it, my eyes were opened. 

Julia Lakes2.jpg

One of your fondest memories from your time in the Swan:

One of my fondest memories from my time in the Swan is when we went night snorkeling the Swan River.  Getting in the dark river in two layers of wetsuits with a flashlight to illuminate fish and beaver was a magical experience.  Getting out of the water to huddle with my fellow students and teachers around a bonfire was just as magical. 

What are you up to now (professionally and/or personally)? 

After graduating from college, I spent eight years working for a rural land conservation organization in Northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains - Wallowa Land Trust.  As the first staff person for the organization, I did everything from guiding natural history hikes to meeting with landowners to fundraising. 
Since then, I’ve moved to the Bay Area to try out urban living.  I now work as the Development Manager for Beyond Emancipation – a nonprofit that helps teens transition out of the foster care system and into adulthood. 

How did participating in our program help you get there? 

Participating in SVC’s program not only sparked my interest in community conservation work, but it also gave me a foundation that proved extremely useful in my career.  The hard skills (like botany, forestry and land use policy) and soft skills (like listening, valuing community and different opinions) I learned in the program are ones I turn to on a daily basis. 

I credit the SVC program with helping me succeed at Wallowa Land Trust, which in turn meant many acres of protected land and a strong organization to steward that land. And even today, in an urban office in Oakland, I draw on the lessons and growth I experienced in the Swan. I forge new partnerships, listen respectfully to differing opinions, and think big (i.e. landscape-level) – all skills I gleaned from my semester with SVC.  

L&L 2008 students reuniting in the Swan in 2017.

L&L 2008 students reuniting in the Swan in 2017.

Any advice for current students with similar academic and career goals?

My advice for current students is to take advantage of whatever internships, volunteer opportunities and interesting projects come your way.  Follow those feelings of passion and excitement in your heart and take risks.