Chelsea Burket, ’07, grew up in a home instilled with an appreciation for the natural world, going camping, and spending countless hours outdoors. She was highly engaged in environmental clubs and activities during her high school years. So when it came time to head to college, she shares honestly that Environmental Studies is the only major she ever considered.
Being one of the program’s earliest graduates, Chelsea can attest what was true then and still holds true today - the internship experience is one of the greatest assets during and after your academic career. During her time at Penn State Altoona, Chelsea was very involved in social justice organizations and even had the opportunity to study abroad in Berlin for a semester. Dr. Brian Black took notice of Chelsea’s interests in cities, social justice and the environment and pointed her in the direction of the Hollidaysburg Borough where she took her first internship with their planning and zoning department. She recalls how she was completely unaware that urban planning “was a thing!” and she is forever grateful for that encouragement by Dr. Black.
That first internship led to several more upon graduation in various positions and organizations. She felt fairly certain she would go on to grad school, but before she went all-in, she wanted to get a few more experiences under her belt to be absolutely sure. So the summer after graduation she ended up interning with the City of Pittsburgh’s Planning Department, and later worked at North American Communications on corporate social responsibility for the remainder of the year. By fall 2008, she was enrolled at The University of Michigan in the Master’s in Urban Planning program. There she focused on community and economic development. Later that summer she interned with Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision. Her capstone work aided the Southwest Detroit Business Association on a plan to mitigate impacts to businesses from the construction of a new international bridge. Then, to round out her entire educational experience, she interned with the City of Ann Arbor's planning department. That’s 5 internships in total!
“Upon graduation I thought for sure that I'd either be working for a city planning department or a community development corporation.” But there Chelsea was, back in Pittsburgh without a job the fall of 2010. The Recession had recently hit so the atmosphere of available jobs in the field had changed. The impact was felt. She just happened to reconnect with someone she had met during her time interning at Hollidaysburg. He had relocated to Pittsburgh and started his own economic development consulting firm, Fourth Economy, and needed some help. “This was the last thing I had imagined doing, but it turned out that I really enjoyed the work. I worked on a contract basis for several months until I was offered a full-time position in 2011, and I have been there ever since!”
Currently, Chelsea is VP of Strategy and Team Development at Fourth Economy Consulting. “[They] blend economic analysis and stakeholder input to help their communities better understand their economies, and develop implementable strategies to create great places, attract and retain talent, and start and grow businesses.” View some recent examples of projects that Chelsea has worked on; including a strategy to grow the agriculture economy in West Virginia, an economic development plan for the Hartford, CT region, and the creation and management of a new regional economic development initiative for the Newport, RI region.
Chelsea’s role on projects involve project management (working with the client, keeping the project in budget, the team on task, etc.), designing and executing stakeholder engagement (conducting interviews, surveys and focus groups, etc.), and developing strategies and writing the final reports. Her job relies heavily on professional communication both written and oral. This is a skillset valuable in any industry and one our program seeks to encourage and build upon throughout the entire program. And while she understands her work isn’t explicitly related to environmental issues, she has had the opportunity to work with several environmental non-profits. They are currently strategizing their approach to be able to better help their clients assess and plan for climate change impacts on their economy.
Chelsea would be remiss not to mention that she met her husband on the first day of Environmental Studies 100 with Dr. Mahan and Dr. Marshall! “That class, Dr. Black's environmental history class, and Dr. Marshall's environmental literature class all stand out in my memory as truly eye-opening and wonderful experiences. However, what stands out most about my time at Penn State Altoona is honestly the degree to which the faculty supported and cared for the students. Dr. Black, Dr. Lorensen (German), and Dr. De Reus (women's studies) in particular gave me opportunities (and confidence!) that have undeniably made me who I am today. “
When asked what one piece of advice she would give to students who are currently working through the program, she says this, “There are so many careers out there that it is hard to know about as a student. Be proactive in seeking out people with whom you can do informational interviews and learn more about their job. Get as many different internships as you can to expose yourself to different careers. Find related professional organizations to join (students often get reduced memberships) and attend conferences if possible. Be open to careers that you never imagined yourself in.”
By Erin Nachtman, '10, ENVST