DEQ employee and recent grad has interest in environmental issues
July 21, 2017
Gila River Indian News
At her office at the Department of Environmental Quality, Althea Walker, an Environmental Education & Outreach Specialist, talked about her aspirations and what she’s been able to accomplish in the year since graduating with her Masters in Environmental Technology Management from Arizona State University.
“I’m not your traditional college student, I didn’t go to college right out of high school,” said Walker, “I started in the business program, I thought I wanted to go into engineering…and then I finally realized I want to go into environmental protection.”
She said a chance visit with a University of Arizona Professor Karletta Chief, who works at the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, sparked her interest on the environmental issues shared among American Indians.
“I remember a Navajo lady talking about being a hydrologist and coming from her home on the Navajo Nation and speaking about the environmental issues and how she brought her education back to her community…so that was part of the inspiration on choosing environmental protection as a field of interest,” said Walker.
Walker said, that her education and job go hand-in-hand, that she is able to gain exposure from each of the areas of service DEQ works within.
One of the driving factors behind her work is seeing other Native professionals who share a similar passion for protecting the environment.
She said, “Just seeing more and more through the years other Natives doing [this] kind of work, protecting the environment is really empowering. Especially when you attend conferences and see a room full of Natives and they’re all doing something that they love with their education.”
Walker said that her position allows her to get a well-rounded experience of everything associated with protecting the environment.
“It’s a good position to be in to learn…especially coming right out of college and you continually learn a lot,” said Walker, “Working with our program [here] I’m not secluded to just one area, I get exposed to all areas.”
Walker hopes to continue building her level of knowledge while helping Community members get a better understanding of the kinds of monitoring her department conducts to keep the environment safe and how it is related to their health.
“It’s taking every opportunity to educate about the importance of environmental protection in a way that is personal to them…so if [you] think about air quality and how it affects your upper respiratory system and other ways it affects their health,” said Walker.
Since her department works with vast amounts of data on the environment, Walker said she tries to translate that information into something that is useful.
She has aspirations of getting a Ph.D. in sustainability that she hopes will elevate her journey into playing a more integral role building a cleaner more eco-friendly future.
“Eventually I want to take on more responsibilities and be able to be in a position of influence through a leadership role…but we’ll see how that goes. It may not happen that way, but as long as I get to do the work along the lines of what I do now post doctorate, I’ll be satisfied with that,” said Walker.
She said opportunities to help college students on the rise is two-fold, because on the one hand it shows there’s an interest in protecting the environment and second, it offers her a chance to mentor students that want to make a positive change in the Community.
Walker said, “To help influence another Community member to get them into environmental protection, who is eager to do it…I find that rewarding and hopefully they can stay [here] within the department and work along the lines of what they’re studying in school.”