Where are They Now? Former NEC Work Study: Jemma Williams

Jemma teaching kids about macroinvertebrates at Bothe Nature Camp (Napa Resource Conservation District). Photo courtesy of Jemma Williams.
Jemma teaching kids about macroinvertebrates at Bothe Nature Camp (Napa Resource Conservation District). Photo courtesy of Jemma Williams.

While a student at HSU, Jemma Williams was fortunate to have her first work-study job be at the Northcoast Environmental Center—running the eco-boutique, delivering EcoNews, and coordinating volunteers. The NEC was a great portal into the history of the community’s environmental activism and her interest and involvement in volunteerism and environmental issues flourished from there.

Before graduating HSU, Jemma landed an internship near her hometown in Yosemite National Park working as a Vegetation and Ecological Restoration Intern leading volunteers in invasive plant eradication throughout the valley and Tuolumne Meadows. It was an opportunity to expand the volunteer coordination skills she’d gotten a taste of at the NEC, and a crash course in botany and the impacts invasive plants have on natural ecosystems and habitats.

After earning a B.A. in Geography and Natural Resources from HSU, she joined a weeds crew for the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, mapping invasive plants, learning more about native plants, and dodging rattlesnakes. After a quick stint traveling in Central America, Jemma then served two terms in the AmeriCorps Watershed Stewards Program at the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife in the Eureka and Arcata offices, as well as at the Humboldt Fish Action Council Nursery in Blue Lake.

This program was an incredible opportunity to conduct amphibian, bird, and salmonid surveys in the wetlands, tributaries, and landscapes of the North Coast. It was there that she realized exploring, studying, and conserving the natural world made more sense than dedicating her time and energy to anything else—and that her love of native plants was solidified. After AmeriCorps and work at the nursery, Jemma went north to work for the USDA Forest Service on the Middle Fork Willamette River in Oregon, conducting rare plant surveys in timber units on a botany crew for half of the season, and leading Youth Conservation Corps of teenagers aged 15-18 in native plant identification and invasive plant removal for the other half.

Next, she explored some East Coast ecosystems before ending up back in her home state as a Great Basin Institute Assessment Inventory and Monitoring Field Lead—performing ecological assessments on BLM grazing land, wearing the hats of botanist, soil scientist, and rangeland specialist each day in very remote sites. These positions helped her gain valuable insight into the status and health of various ecosystems and the species living within them, as well as how natural resources land management is conducted.

Jemma then decided to put her plant and restoration skills to use in a more urban environment and moved to the North Bay area to work as a Restoration Technician for the Sonoma Ecology Center, designing and installing restoration projects near urban streams. She then jumped a watershed over to work in what is now her current position as a Conservation Program Assistant for the Napa County Resource Conservation District (RCD). For the past two and a half years at the RCD, Jemma has had the opportunity to use both communication and field skills for projects in environmental education, water management, conservation planning, oak woodland restoration, fisheries monitoring, and coordinating a wildlife lecture series and street and creek trash cleanups throughout Napa County.

She is excited to be starting her next endeavor and tool box builder position in June with WRA Environmental Consulting in Emeryville as a Junior Project Manager/Biologist, helping to plan and implement restoration projects throughout the Bay Area. Jemma’s journey through just some of the many avenues that exist within environmental research, restoration, and conservation has been very rewarding, educational, and meaningful. Thanks for the kickoff, NEC!