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Alumna Sydney Vergis posing with a bike and helmet in downtown Sacramento
Alumna Sydney Vergis, a double major in economics and environmental policy, analysis and planning, often rides her bike from Davis to Sacramento where she is the acting legislative director for the California Air Resources Board. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Aggies Become Green Advocates as Managers, Policymakers, Professors and Attorneys

By Ken Barnes on September 27, 2017

Not only is UC Davis a global leader in environmental research, but our alumni are also at the green forefront, tackling difficult issues about the environment. Meet some of these UC Davis Aggies dedicated to fighting global climate change, teaching future leaders and helping to set policy for a sustainable future:

1. Sydney Vergis ’04, MS ’13, Ph.D. ’16, advocates for clean air

I currently work as the acting legislative director for the California Air Resources Board. This is the state agency charged with achieving greenhouse gas reductions, protecting public health and helping to make sure Californians are breathing clean air. 

In my role, I review state and federal legislation to assess potential benefits, costs or impacts of a proposed policy that relates to air quality, climate change, human health and the environment. Every day, I use the qualitative and quantitative interdisciplinary skills I learned at UC Davis working on my undergraduate degrees in economics and environmental policy, analysis and planning as well as master’s and doctoral degrees in transportation technology and policy.

UC Davis also led to early internships at the State Capitol and the Air Resources Board, which helped me build a foundation in real-world policy and environmental work.

My Ph.D. advisor, Professor Dan Sperling, guided me to focus my academic work on exciting areas of emerging technology, policy and business models for zero-emission vehicle markets. UC Davis also provided connections and a network that included policy decision-makers, industry and nongovernmental organizations — a combination that I hope you will enjoy as well.

2. Jaime Lemus ’00 keeps the air clean in Sacramento

Portrait of alumnus Jaime Lemus
Jaime Lemus

I am a program manager for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District mobile source section and direct the district’s mobile-source incentive programs.

The incentive programs are available for the Sacramento regional community to replace old equipment with the latest vehicle technology. By replacing old equipment, our district reduces air pollution in the Sacramento region and supports our mission to achieve the state and federal clean air goals. Air quality is linked to our community’s health.

This year, our district is deploying 29 zero-emission electric school buses for three Sacramento school districts. It was the largest zero-emission electric school bus project in the nation.

My experience in the environmental field extends back to 1998, when I conducted air and wastewater quality research for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Davis. I continued my student research at the California Air Resources Board, where I studied the correlation between respiratory illnesses, air pollution and environmental degradation. In 2001, I joined the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

I was originally a double major in civil and environmental engineering, and mathematics. During this time, I conducted full-time research for civil and environmental engineering under a NASA scholarship. Eventually, I discovered that being a double major and conducting full-time research was too much.

Because I am a descendent of the Purepecha indigenous people of Michoacan, Mexico, Native American studies appealed to me as a major. A mentor in engineering encouraged me to switch majors, and I graduated in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies. I emotionally and intellectually thrived in both the Department of Native American Studies and the civil and environmental engineering department. 

I learned it’s not always about memorizing theories or calculations. It’s about knowing and understanding how they are applied in life.

3. Kristine Gilbert ’99 educates the next green generation

Portrait of Kristine Gilbert
Kristine Gilbert

I have been a full-time professor of environmental studies and sustainability at Sierra College since the department was created in 2009. Every year, 300-plus students come through my classes with some or no knowledge of the human impact on the environment.

I attempt to open their eyes to the world around them, challenge them to think critically and scientifically about natural resources and ecosystem services, and invite them to get outside and experience and examine the natural world. I'm honored to have the opportunity to reach so many minds.

I graduated from UC Davis in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in nature and culture [no longer a major] and a minor in English.

In my time at UC Davis, I was able to learn in and out of the classroom alongside many bright peers. My small major and upper-division coursework gave me personal access to talented faculty who challenged me to ask important questions and mentored me on how to seek the answers myself.

I also took advantage of opportunities to conduct limnological research with the Castle Lake Research Group as an undergraduate, which acted as a springboard for my career. My UC Davis experiences gave me the foundation to inspire a new generation to critically examine the environment and the human impact.

4. Michael Mills ’94, J.D. ’97, practices environmental law

Portrait of Michael Mills
Michael Mills

I’m a law partner in the Sacramento office of Stoel Rives LLP and serve as chair of the firm’s oil, gas, mining and pipelines industries team. My practice is focused on oil and gas, environmental, land use, property tax, and litigation matters. 

I have nearly 20 years of experience with federal and state environmental laws and regulations, as well as permitting and regulatory issues associated with energy and oil and gas development. I am a past president of both the Sacramento County Bar Association and the Sacramento Chapter of the Federal Bar Association.

I graduated from the UC Davis School of Law in 1997, Order of the Coif, and received my Bachelor of Science from UC Davis in environmental toxicology in 1994, summa cum laude.

My environmental toxicology degree gave me a number of very attractive options for my career. I chose to pursue a career in the law to marry my love of policy and writing with science and the environment. My professors helped me figure this out, and I encourage students to talk to them about career aspirations. Keeping my options open left me with a number of terrific choices in life. 

5. Ted Tardif ’97 is advancing the renewable energy industry

Portrait of Ted Tardiff
Ted Tardif

My current job is in the renewable energy industry. At Shell Energy North America, I assist the producers of renewable natural gas and clean-vehicle fuel dispensers to monetize their biogas products in the United States, especially in the California fuel markets. 

My employer focuses much of its corporate energy both on reducing our use of fossil fuel in modern vehicles, and providing cleaner burning, renewable alternatives to fossil fuel. It is an exciting time in the green-energy industry, and I am proud of the small role I play.

I graduated in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in managerial economics. My major at UC Davis provided me with an excellent educational background for working in the energy trading industry. No matter the energy product — natural gas, power, oil — the laws of supply and demand are fundamental in the valuation of the various commodities.  

Go Ags! 

6. Diana Wiggins ’06 helps guide UC on green policy areas

Portrait of Diana Wiggins
Diana Wiggins

I currently work for the University of California Office of the President as a senior policy analyst. In my role, I review state and federal legislation to understand the potential benefits or impacts to the university, prepare a detailed policy and fiscal analysis for key bills and recommend whether the university should take a formal position. My portfolio includes a number of policy areas, including research, energy and sustainability.

Prior to joining the Office of the President, I spent nine years working on energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C., serving as a legislative assistant for U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (Rhode Island), a policy analyst for the Coastal States Organization, and legislative staff member for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (California).    

I graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental biology and management [replaced by environmental science and management] and a minor in political science.

My experience at UC Davis further sparked my interest in a career at the intersection of science and policy. I've always felt strongly that energy and environmental policy should be rooted in science, and UC Davis gave me a strong foundation in both science and science communication that has served me well in my policy career.

Ken Barnes ’96 is an assistant director with the Internship and Career Center and the Center for African Diaspora Student Success. An Aggie with a degree in political science, he has enjoyed serving underrepresented groups on campus and connecting students to public service. He also serves on a school board in Sacramento County.

 

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