From intern to staff member

Smiling woman by lake

Lila Franklin joined Freshwater in December 2019 as a program intern. She graduated from St. Olaf College in May 2019 with an environmental studies degree, and is in her second year of an urban and regional planning master’s program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Serendipity at St. Olaf

Lila didn’t always envision a career in environmental planning. Her longtime goal was to be a dentist, so her first two years of college classes were all pre-dental requirements. “But I was miserable—I hated it so much,” she says. “One day I had an epiphany that it wasn’t what I wanted to do, so it was back to square one, which was really scary.”

St. Olaf requires all students to take a course on the bible during their first year. Lila was randomly assigned a class about the Bible and the environment, and what it means to be a good steward of the Earth.

This was a turning point. Lila notes that she’s never been a religious person—but that class somehow really spoke to her.

Suddenly excited about environmental issues, Lila decided she had to pursue that course of study. “I didn’t see it coming, but it was serendipitous that I ended up in that class,” she says. She’d never taken classes in this vein in high school—she doesn’t think they were offered when she was in school in Edina. It was just a stroke of luck that she discovered her passion when she did.

“I’m interested in stewardship, and the philosophical and sociological side of the issues—relationships that people have with the planet,” she says.

Path to Freshwater

When Lila graduated in 2019, jobs were hard to find for an environmental studies major, so she spent her free time volunteering. She worked at a restaurant to pay the bills and volunteered for organizations with missions she believed in.

Lila’s mom happened to have a friend at Freshwater—Research and Policy Director Carrie Jennings. After an informational interview with Carrie and Senior Program Manager Jen Kader, Lila offered to help Freshwater with projects on a volunteer basis. After helping Jen with community engagement work and spreadsheets for several months, Lila officially began an internship with Freshwater in December 2019. Her internship continued until January 2021, when she became a program associate.

“I started with an interest and a passion for the work, and the volunteering led me to where I am now.

Lila’s work at Freshwater focuses on watershed management planning with Jen, as well as interviews with tribal nations about groundwater governance to understand these communities’ concerns, strategies, and opportunities to preserve and protect water in their areas.

Centering DEI and community engagement

Lila’s also interested in the question of environmental equity.

“Even just in the past couple years, Freshwater has moved to really center diversity, equity, and inclusion in the projects we do, and I think every single organization needs to be centering that,” Lila says. Whatever career she has in the future, she wants to keep DEI in focus.

Meaningful community engagement is also a priority for Lila. “Jen’s been one of the most incredible mentors for me—she’s so eloquent and deliberate about facilitating, and I really want to emulate her style. She’s so about relationship building and really engaging in a way that makes people know their contributions to the conversation are valued,” Lila says.

Fostering trust, communications, and problem solving through conversation—these are skills Lila wants to carry with her to all her future endeavors.

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