Shaping Environmental Policy and Leading on Capitol Hill
This week, we spoke to Trevor Lalonde, Professional Staff Member for the Committee on Environment and Public Works [EPW].
Can you tell me about your career path that you’ve taken that’s led you to where you are now?
The path that led me to where I am today all started with an email from an internship coordinator at Central Michigan University, Dr. Sharon Kukla-Acevedo. At the time, I was working full-time while finishing my degree online when an opportunity arose to participate in a semester-long internship in Washington, DC. My internship was with Graduate School USA, the first U.S. organization created to provide continuing professional education to the federal community. I was able to participate in this internship thanks to The Washington Center, an independent, nonprofit organization serving hundreds of universities and helping thousands of students pursue career opportunities in our nation’s capital.
During those three months, I learned so much and realized that DC — home to much of the federal government — was where I wanted to build my life. After the semester wrapped up, I moved back to DC almost immediately and managed to secure two part-time jobs: one at my previous internship non-profit, and one with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s federal relations office. Then, everything changed. Within several months, I found myself working fully remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fielding an influx of constituent calls, and converting an entire course roster into a virtual format. Like for so many, 2020 was an extremely tough year for me, especially because I had uprooted my entire life at 33 years old and moved to a new city where I knew very few people. Still, I was determined to find a full-time position where I could help make a difference.
Shortly after the start of 2021, my boss at the Governor’s Office told me about a job opening on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee. After applying, I went through several rounds of interviews with committee staff and ultimately received a call from the Democratic Staff Director offering me the job of Operations Assistant. I was over the moon with excitement as the role was the perfect fit for me. At the time, the EPW Committee was still conducting much of its business virtually. My experiences with Graduate School USA and the Michigan Governor’s Office had prepared me well for the job.
I joined the EPW Committee staff toward the start of the 117th Congress, and what a Congress that was, especially for our committee. Between the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, we had the most productive Congress in the Committee’s history. It was and still is incredibly rewarding to know that I played a role in helping pass such monumental legislation for our infrastructure and climate. At the end of the 117th Congress, my direct supervisor announced that she would be retiring after nearly 29 years in the Senate. This presented another opportunity for me.
As an Operations Assistant, I spent every second of my time learning as much as I could about the Committee’s functions, the Chairman’s priorities, and the Senate’s inner workings. Recognizing the hard work that I put in during the 117th Congress, my boss again gave me another huge opportunity and promoted me to Operations Manager. In this role, I oversee the entire administrative team on the EPW Committee in addition to my previous responsibilities. I have never been happier or felt more on track with my life than I am now. I truly love the work that I do. It is immensely rewarding to know that I am serving the American people, while also working to leave behind a better planet for future generations.
How do you manage competing priorities and deadlines when working on multiple projects at once and expanding your skillset?
As the operations lead for the EPW Committee, I constantly have incoming requests at work. Specifically, I help my colleagues plan and execute committee hearings on various topics; schedule committee business with all our member offices; coordinate the Sergeant at Arms and U.S. Capitol Police; oversee junior staff and interns; and serve as the Office Manager. Staying organized is essential — I write everything down and rely heavily on Outlook.
What policy issues are you most interested/passionate about?
In school, I focused much of my studies on foreign policy and international relations. Still, after three years on the EPW Committee, I have a strong interest in environmental policy. Specifically, I’m passionate about recycling and sustainability. This year, the EPW Committee advanced two pieces of bipartisan legislation, which would strengthen recycling and composting efforts across our nation. Recycling benefits our economy and planet, and I’d love to see both bills become law.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone interested in working on the Hill, what would it be?
Be tenacious, don’t give up, and don’t get discouraged. At the same time, have a backup plan. Should you get the opportunity to interview with an office, take the time to prepare and be ready to make your case for why you are the right person for the job. Additionally, while relationships are a huge part of any work environment, I have found that to be especially true on the Hill. If you already have a deep network of professional contacts, lean on it. If not, get to work developing connections that will benefit you in the future.
Word association, what is the first word that comes to mind for each of these?
Policy – Sustainability
Networking – Essential
Writing Skills – Speed
Working on the Hill – Public Service