In Spotlights

karenpoianiDecember 2014 Spotlight

Karen currently serves as Director, Learning & Evaluation at the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation. Previously, she was Chief Conservation Strategy Officer with The Nature Conservancy. Karen has experience developing and executing strategy at multiple organizational levels and translating science into applied practice. Karen has authored numerous scientific publications on wetlands ecology, climate change, and conservation planning. She has managed multi-disciplinary teams, designed and led dynamic learning events, and provided organization-wide leadership on diversity and gender. Karen earned a B.S. in environmental studies from Stockton State College, NJ, and an M.S. in botany and Ph.D. in ecology from Virginia Tech.

How did you become involved in your current career?

I was always interested in the environment and in nature. I came of age in the 1970s when the United States was just starting to notice the environmental problems we were facing, such as maintaining clean air and water. I used to go backpacking in the Delaware Water Gap in NJ/PA in high school. And I went to college in the NJ Pine Barrens. The NJ turnpike has given the state of NJ a bad rap. It’s actually a very beautiful state with amazing ecosystems.

What environmental issues are of most concern to you?

Well of course, climate change. And being a wetlands ecologist by training, I am also concerned about nitrogen loading (from row crops and animal production) to water bodies such as streams, lakes, estuaries and groundwater. This is already a serious problem in some areas and I think it will emerge as one of the leading global environmental issues in the next several decades as world population increases and we increase food production to accommodate this growth.

What do you think are some challenges and opportunities facing women in the environmental movement today?

One challenge/opportunity facing women in the environmental movement today is trusting our own voices and perspectives, and then getting those ideas and perspectives out into the world. Another is balancing career and family. Many influential jobs in the non-profit or for-profit sectors make it difficult to spend enough time with your kids.

What are your suggestions on how WEN members can become more involved in your sector and the environmental movement?

I think that WEN members can get more involved in conservation by volunteering and getting out in the field. There are so many non-profit conservation organizations in the Bay Area and many of them provide local volunteer opportunities. These include nature hikes, restoration activities such as planting and weed pulling, and helping with education and docent opportunities. I think first-hand personal experiences with current conservation issues will change the way people think and act, and will cause important ripple effects in the environmental movement. I also think weighing in on policy issues related to the environment through voting and campaigning is also another critical way to help the cause.