Marissa and husband Ariel at President Obama's inauguration, Marissa at Homecoming 2013, Marissa with her best friends, Lindsay Young ’04, left, and Andrea Worley McBryar ‘04
Class Year: 2004
Major at MC: Environmental Studies and Piano Performance (double major)
Senior Thesis Title/Topic: “Nature and the Music of Bela Bartok: The Fibonacci Series”
Current Town/City of Residence: Washington, D.C.
Title: Communications Director, Tribal Program Manager at Environmental Protection Agency
Family: Ariel Laguilles, husband
Q: Describe your career path since graduating from MC.
A: My environmental studies degree and overall outdoor education at Maryville set me up perfectly to serve in Alaska as a trail crew leader in AmeriCorps. I moved to the southeastern part of the state to lead local youth, many from Alaskan Tribes, on month-long trail building stints. We would hike in, set up camp, and do anything from clearing dead trees to building bridges. This lasted almost a year, and included lots of bear/moose sightings and snow. The whole camping-for-a-year thing seems crazy looking back, but this built my confidence and better prepared me for the real world.
After being in the field, I moved to D.C. to start an internship at AmeriCorps headquarters and began working toward my master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy at Johns Hopkins University. All of this helped me land a job at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was my ultimate goal. By taking classes and working simultaneously, I designed my courses and work to complement each other, and began to focus more on environmental policy and issues affecting indigenous people. When a position opened up to direct communications and outreach in EPA’s tribal office, I jumped at the chance. This is where I’ve served for the last four years.
Q: Describe your job or a typical day “in the office.”
A: Every day is a different adventure! I could be hosting tribal presidents, prepping for interagency or White House meetings, and responding to questions from Congress all in the same day. There’s a lot of writing and reviewing involved – speeches, memos, talking points, press releases, policies. Everything that comes to EPA related to any of the 566 tribal nations we partner with hits my desk. I also direct any outreach EPA does with tribal governments.
Q: What has been your most exciting/enjoyable professional experience to date?
A: In 2011, I was appointed to launch a new research program under former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. She wanted to partner with tribal colleges and universities on environmental research, something new to EPA. I was given the opportunity to develop, from the ground up, the Tribal ecoAmbassadors Program. To date, EPA scientists have worked with a dozen tribal college professors and 120 students to solve environmental problems on their reservations. Examples of project results include an online course for collecting climate change data, identifying and mitigating drinking water contaminants, and creating carbon-negative building material from recycled glass. Word spread about the program, and we were invited to present at the White House and the Smithsonian Museum this past summer.
Q: Since graduating from MC, what has made you the most proud?
A: That I still want to learn new things, challenge myself and stay well-rounded. And I can make people laugh.
Q: How did your MC experience prepare you for your vocation and/or life?
A: In every way! Honing my camping skills, focusing on learning and performing a piano piece, writing what seemed like hundreds of essays – all of these experiences gave me the confidence and the skills I needed to thrive.
Q: What are your hobbies? What do you do for fun?
A: Well, I’m keeping up my piano skills by performing with a local jazz band. I also volunteer with local environmental and women’s groups, run ultra marathons with my husband, and love teaching Pilates and cuddling with our two Australian Cattle Dogs.
Q: Professionally or personally, what’s still on your “bucket list”?
A: I would love to start my own wellness business that would focus on keeping desk workers (like myself) more active. Sitting is the new smoking!
Q: What’s your best memory from your years as a student at MC?
A: Meeting my best friends. We’re 500 miles away, and yet we communicate everyday. They keep me going!
Q: Complete this sentence: I’m glad Maryville College still has:
A: encourages diversity of thought. Where else could you major in environmental studies and piano and not be told you’re crazy! What an amazing gift to be encouraged to think across disciplines.
Q: Complete this sentence: My classmates may be surprised to learn that I …
A: …recently co-founded the “MC in DC” alumni chapter. If you’re in the D.C. area, look us up! Oh, and I won a chainsaw contest in Alaska.