Career Profile: Serge Dedina and Emily Young

Emily Young and Serge Dedina met as undergraduate students while studying abroad in Peru, and were drawn together by a mutual interest in environmental geography and resource conservation in the Baja California region. Since completing their master's degrees at The University of Wisconsin and doctorates at The University of Texas, the couple has continued their personal and professional journeys together.

Because of their similar academic training and research specializations, Serge and Emily realized it would be a challenge for them both to find faculty positions. Fortunately, Serge found himself particularly drawn to applied geography and decided that a nonprofit career would be a better fit for him. When Emily started a tenure-track position at The University of Arizona, Serge found a job with The Nature Conservancy. After a few years and the birth of their sons Daniel and Israel, they relocated to San Diego. Balancing a young family with the demands of Emily's teaching load and tenure requirements was proving difficult, plus they wanted to be closer to Serge's family and to professional opportunities in his areas of interest.

After moving to California, Serge co-founded WiLDCOAST/COSTASALVAjE, a binational organization that works to conserve coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife (www.wildcoast.net). Emily also transitioned into the nonprofit sector, joining the staff of The San Diego Foundation (www.sdfoundation.org) with community volunteers, donors and other foundations to direct charitable giving to the region’s critical environmental needs. Serge describes his exposure to geographic tools and perspectives as "one of the main reasons I've been successful and WiLDCOAST has been successful." Emily notes that the analytical framework she developed as a geographer enables her to understand a variety of regional environmental concerns, ranging from climate change to biodiversity conservation to air and water quality,  within their  broader social and economic contexts, helping her to determine where funds should be invested in order to have the greatest impact.

Although salaries can be less competitive than those offered in other sectors, nonprofit work is intrinsically rewarding. A passionate commitment to the mission of the organization is the key qualification that both Serge and Emily seek in potential employees. Prior experience is another important asset. For example, Serge describes his position with The Nature Conservancy as being "like a graduate program for nonprofit management." However, paid employment is only one option for developing job skills; Emily strongly recommends volunteer work and internships as other ways to gain valuable first-hand experience.

Nonprofit employees often wear many hats, so burnout is something of an occupational hazard within the industry. Serge and Emily maintain a healthy work-life balance by integrating family vacations into their professional travel. The photo above shows the family in Oaxaca, Mexico, where Serge recently scoped out potential WiLDCOAST conservation projects and the family observed slash-and-burn agricultural practices and visited neighboring ruins. "It was like being in a cultural ecology field course," he noted, adding that that field research is the "funnest thing you can do as a family." (For more on the subject of work-life balance, see Jan Monk's chapter in this book.)

"Geography is uniquely positioned to prepare the next generation of well-rounded and innovative thinkers to address environmental issues," Emily observes. The couple recommends that job seekers look to gain experience with the financial and fundraising aspects of nonprofit work, develop the ability to communicate effectively with non-specialists, and consider pursuing a master's degree for specialized training. "Take advantage of every opportunity," Serge advises. "It's more important than ever that geographers get out there and use their skills and training to make a difference."

This profile was published in 2012 by Dr. Joy Adams