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Interview with a NatCapper: Amelia O’Donohue

Mar 22 2022 | Posted in: Research Highlight
By Kiara Fufunan and Jessie Kaull
We sat down with Amelia O’Donohue, the Natural Capital Project’s communications assistant, to hear about her experience working with NatCap over the past three years, what sparked her interest in environmental communications, and her post-grad plans. Amelia has a B.S. in Earth Systems from Stanford and is currently finishing her master’s in Management Science and Engineering, also at Stanford.

After graduation, Amelia will be joining a consulting firm focused on environmental sustainability in business, a decision she says was largely inspired by her work at the Natural Capital Project. Photo credit: Amelia O’Donohue

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Tell us a little about your role at NatCap. 

I started out as a communications intern my sophomore year at Stanford in winter 2019 and am now a communications assistant. I help out with many different parts of NatCap’s communications, focusing most of my time on social media channels and the website. Recently, my main priority has been writing posts for our Twitter and LinkedIn pages, especially NatCap’s weekly #DidYouKnow campaign. 

How did you become interested in environmental communication? 

Growing up on my family’s organic farm, I spent a lot of time outdoors and I’ve always been interested in the environment. I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to have access to the environment and the outdoors from a young age.

I came to Stanford wanting to understand the science behind the environment, so I started taking Earth Systems classes — that’s when I realized the importance of environmental communications. In my opinion, one main reason why sustainability efforts fail is because of a lack of focus on environmental communications, and this realization guided my future studies. 

I first learned about NatCap when Becky Chaplin-Kramer came to speak to my Introduction to Earth Systems course. I thought NatCap’s work was really interesting and I reached out to Becky to learn more, which eventually led to my internship. I was excited to work with NatCap in whatever way I could be most useful, and it just aligned that they were looking for a communications intern at the time. When I met Sarah [Cafasso], I knew she would be a great mentor and there was a lot I could do and learn. 

[If you’re interested in an internship with NatCap, fill out the form on our Open Positions page.]

How has NatCap strengthened your interest in environmental communications? 

When I started at NatCap, I had this feeling that environmental communication was important, but I did not have any experience. In fact, a lot of my friends laughed when they heard I was working with social media because I wasn’t particularly social media savvy. 

Throughout my time at NatCap, I’ve learned how to communicate complex scientific papers and projects with our various scientific partners as well as more general audiences. For instance, I’ve targeted different audiences through the NatCap Conversations and #DidYouKnow posts with the goal of inspiring people to get interested, get involved, and take action.

How did you grow over your years at NatCap?

NatCap has really given me a basis for skills and experience in environmental communications. As I mentioned, I started out as an intern not really knowing much, but as I started to learn the subject area, I gained skills in social media, writing, metrics, and content strategy. I worked with Sarah to develop my expertise and become more familiar with our audiences and stories.  

Over the years, I was able to become more independent in my work and hone the skills I am most interested in, including writing and quantitative work with metrics. 

What’s a favorite project that you’ve worked on at NatCap? 

The #DidYouKnow campaign is a favorite of mine, especially because I got to lead it from conception, to launch, to implementation — and now it’s a core part of NatCap’s social media strategy. It consists of weekly social media posts for general audiences about different facts related to our work. The goal of the campaign is to expand our reach to anyone who’s even remotely curious about ecosystem services, natural capital, or climate change work. We feature highlights from different papers, partnerships, and newsletter articles. 

I love digging into the metrics behind the more successful posts (and the less successful ones) to better understand what’s gotten people to click or engage. It’s been really exciting to see posts getting more traction!

What are some challenges you encountered as a science communicator? 

A key challenge is in trying to communicate effectively to people who might not have the technical background to understand some of the complex scientific concepts that are the basis of the work. My goal is for anyone from any background to be able to understand what we’re talking about and why it’s important. That definitely has taken a lot of time to practice — and while it’s not something that we can achieve with every campaign, it’s what I’m always aiming for.

Another challenge is trying to convey the most important, compelling part of a story in 280 characters on Twitter posts. It takes a lot longer to craft the posts than it might seem!  I also challenged myself to learn how to design social cards — the graphics that we include alongside social media posts. Not only do you have to conceptualize a graphic that complements the post content and is appealing to people scrolling through their feeds, but then you need to actually design that graphic. It’s an important part of social media campaigns, so I made it a priority to grow my skills in graphic design.   

What are your plans for the future? What are you looking forward to? 

Sadly, I am leaving NatCap in March. I was supposed to study abroad in Madrid in the spring of 2020, but unfortunately that didn’t happen due to COVID. However, I’m now going to Madrid this spring and will be graduating with my master’s degree in Management Science & Engineering in June. 

After Stanford, I’m going to work in consulting, focusing on environmental sustainability consulting with businesses. This was largely inspired by my work at NatCap. I realized how influential businesses could be in impacting climate change and sustainability efforts, and how I could have an impact on the sustainability of businesses.

I’m moving to Los Angeles and I’m excited for the sunshine after being home on the East Coast this winter! I’m also looking forward to traveling over the summer. I am sad though, because I’ve had such an amazing time at NatCap and Stanford and I can’t believe it’s coming to an end, even though I extended it as much as I could! 

Kiara Fufunan and Jessie Kaull are communications interns at the Natural Capital Project. Kiara is a first-year student at Stanford planning to major in Earth Systems with a Biosphere pathway and Jessie is a fifth-year co-term student at Stanford pursuing her B.A. in Human Biology with a concentration in Human-Environmental Interactions & Scientific Communication and her M.A. in Sustainability Science and Practice.