Name: Jackie Brenner
Location: Portland, OR
Occupation: Environmental Scientist
Jackie Brenner thirsts to improve life for her community and beyond by working for a Portland-based environmental consulting group and volunteering to teach life skills and outdoor education to underserved girls.
Jackie’s day job is to evaluate the environmental impact of industrial waste and development on aquatic ecosystems. When she’s not taking samples, writing reports, or completing fieldwork, she’s doing public outreach, or volunteering with Betties360, a non-profit that provides underserved young women active in rock-climbing, mountain biking, and STEM programs.
“I always excelled in labs and hands-on projects, but struggled with the memorization biology required, or understanding the complexities of chemistry. I felt environmental science was more accessible because it’s more creative and relatable: it’s understanding broad scientific concepts and thinking abstractly about how to explain and solve problems in a regulatory framework with that knowledge,” she explains.
After graduating college with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Jackie struggled to make ends meet. It was the recession, she had a low-paying internship without benefits, and she still had student loans to pay. After three months of commuting over 90 minutes each way, Jackie was starting to work enough regular overtime that she was able to move out of her parents’ house.
“Within a few more months I was hired full time salary and could start paying off my student loans. The work was hard because it was a lot of fieldwork in manufacturing facilities, homes, and businesses, and on construction sites, so I was constantly traveling, and it was a lot of climbing ladders and crawling underneath structures looking for water damage or determining air quality in dusty work environments. It was also challenging to be taken seriously,” she says. “My coworkers were great, but I grew a thick skin working with some of our clients who were wary of my ability being both young and a woman.”
After two years, Jackie was laid off as a result of the company’s struggles, so she applied to graduate school.
“When I was laid off, I accepted my admission to Oregon State University to study Environmental Science and complete a degree that was blended with their Water Science program, so I could pursue doing something I really loved,” Jackie says.
Following grad school, Jackie began working at a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data processing firm modeling watersheds and floodplains for municipalities to inventory their water resources and plan for flood events. These days, her task mastery has expanded.
“My team at my company helps municipalities and governmental coalitions write and manage EPA Brownfield Grants to fund assessment of contaminated and potentially contaminated properties so they can be cleaned up if need be, and redeveloped,” she says. “My clients are all Colorado and west…including Alaska! I continue to do GIS work and fieldwork including groundwater sampling, but we really look at addressing environmental health on a community scale.”
Beyond funding endeavors and water safety, Jackie’s pet project is the after-school women-empowerment program Betties360 that works to get underrepresented and underserved middle school girls involved in action sports and outdoor activities.
“It’s women-led, and focuses on leadership, trust, teamwork, and risk-taking themes in the classroom and in a safe and encouraging environment with our community partners,” Jackie explains. “We want to remove all barriers to participate in these activities, so the program is always 100% free.”
After learning about Betties360 through a friend who was the former Program Coordinator, she volunteered to lend her grant writing skills and community outreach passion to the organization.
“I’ve been the Grant Committee Chair since shortly after I started with Betties360 in 2017 and was recently elected Vice Chair of the organization,” Jackie says. “I’m more tired than I’ve ever been, and hustling harder than I ever have, but it’s incredibly rewarding.”
So what message does this aquatic safety ace and outdoor enthusiast have for young women who might be struggling to find their place on the planet?
“Pining after boys and maintaining superficial friendships is a waste of time. Focus on developing your interests, your hobbies, and pursuing what you care about in any way you can. When you’re an interesting person the right people will be interested in being around you,” she says. “Also, lift each other up. Being friends is way more fun than being competitors; you will also go farther with each other than stepping on each other.”
Excellent advice from an environmental advocate. For her work keeping water clean and young girls excited about getting outside, we think Jackie Brenner is one Cool Girl!