Gaby Rigaud recounts her experience as she wraps up a year of interning with Second Nature’s Advancing Green Building in Higher Education program. We’ll miss you, Gaby!
by Gaby Rigaud, Advancing Green Building Intern, Second Nature
We all have moments in our lives when we’re forced to adjust and make difficult decisions that we hope will change our lives for the best. One such moment for me came at the end of 2008. At that point, I had spent nearly four years working as a civil engineer at a Fortune 500 consulting firm in Boston, and I found myself at an impasse. Lacking both variety and a sense of purpose in my daily activities, feeling unsupported, I began to be unfulfilled in my professional life. My initial remedy was to go to graduate school to broaden my knowledge; I quickly found, though, that this would not be sufficient. I reevaluated the situation, asking myself the usual questions: “Where do I see myself in 5-10 years?” and “What am I passionate about?” This exercise resulted in a decision that most people who know and are close to me saw as irrational. My future was presented to me in a new light, and putting up new condo buildings and underground parking garages for the next 40 years was not part of it.
Thanks to my involvement with the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter at Tufts, I came to realize that my pleasure lies in problem solving and in using what I know to help others. I was reminded of the reason why I became a civil engineer in the first place. Yes, bridges and buildings are impressive landmarks, but my strongest interest was in the legacy that engineers leave and the impact they have in our world. Striving to make people’s lives better and providing them with the means to help themselves in a sustainable and efficient way is one unbeatable legacy (at least in my opinion).
With that in mind, I counted my pennies and resigned from my position. In my newfound free time, I decided to accelerate my work toward the Tufts engineering Masters program I had started in a part-time capacity back in 2007. I took the opportunity to enroll full-time in graduate courses. I also wanted to break away from the typical “engineering stuff,” stay active, and explore how I could apply my skills to the world of sustainability. I looked into LEED Accreditation, and studying for the exam led me to realize that I can accomplish more by training with a focus on sustainability and societal impact.
My journey led me to Second Nature on February 19, 2009.
Among all of the companies and organizations with which I had interviewed, having a Tufts alumnus and former Dean, and former Massachusetts EPA Commissioner as Second Nature’s president definitely made my choice easier! Let’s be honest… we tend to stick with what we know. My phone interview with the Advancing Green Building Director, Amy Hattan, was also a selling point. It may have been the calm voice that sealed the deal.
Starting at Second Nature, I had a lot of “green rethinking” to do. Based on my exposure to many corporations and profit-driven clients over the years, I was honestly awaiting the day when my supervisors would reveal that our real mission was, in fact, to turn everyone into tree-huggers and environmental radicals. I am pleased to say that this was not the case. Instead, I quickly realized that the things I value and consider common sense are closely aligned to Second Nature’s mission.
Why wouldn’t you want to save money by making your building energy efficient? How can you expect children, professionals, and students to know how to build a better, more sustainable life if you don’t teach them? Growing up in Haiti, we could not rely on public and government services. Collecting rainwater, using solar panels and inverters, designing our houses to maximize natural light and ventilation, consuming less, and reusing materials… these were all things that we did to survive. As my colleagues have probably heard me say too many times, what is being hailed these days as “green building” should be the norm. I learned that much of Second Nature’s work is about making sustainability customary and, well, second nature. Even if you don’t agree with green rhetoric in general, you must admit that saving, conserving, and living and breathing better can’t possibly be bad for you!
In addition to an education in sustainability, I also gained something equally valuable during my year at Second Nature. Working in an environment where you really feel that you are supporting an important cause was something new to me. I take pride in completing any task or project with fervor, and when you are not alone in seeing the importance and value of the final product, there’s definitely a higher sense of purpose and accomplishment. My colleagues at Second Nature have taught me what passion is, and that expressing it (in a loud or quiet voice) is part of growing yourself and fueling your success.
I like to think that Second Nature, with its kind and passionate people, has helped me find the passion within me, and I hope to take this with me in helping the rebuilding efforts in Haiti. For that I will always be grateful.
Watch a video interview about the Second Nature internship experience.