Women’s History Month at the Chesapeake Bay Trust: Kacey Wetzel
Let our female leaders tell you their stories!
When the Chesapeake Bay Trust was created in 1985, our goal was to help improve the watersheds of the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland Coastal Bays and the Youghiogheny River. Part of this mission involves fostering the inclusion of individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds, including women. This year for Women’s History Month, we would like you to take a look at three women at the Trust who are leading in environmental work. Today, we will focus on Kacey Wetzel, Director of Programs for Outreach & Education.
1) Can you tell me a little about yourself and what your role is at the Trust?
Kacey: I was born and raised in Maryland and have a longstanding love for the Chesapeake Bay and water generally. While I have lived in a few places, I came back to the Chesapeake region in 2006 and joined the Trust staff in 2007. I am the Director of Outreach and Education here at the Trust and I work with an amazing team of folks who care deeply about environmental and community well-being.
2) What inspired you to become involved in Environmental work?
Kacey: I had a wonderful teacher named Mrs. Ginger in middle school who organized an essay contest to select students to participate in an immersive multi-day environmental education experience. While I didn’t know it at the time, I was participating in a Meaningful Watershed Education Experience (or what we affectionately refer to as a MWEE). At some point over the course of several days, while listening to geese overhead, smelling the brackish water, and walking through sandy beaches and black needle rush, I fell in love. That experience and the incredible passion of my teacher Mrs. Ginger set the course for my academic pursuits and my career.
3) What advice would you give a woman who wanted to pursue a career similar to yours?
Kacey: There are so many on-ramps to environmental careers now, so I don’t think you need to have an academic background in environmental science to find your niche in the environmental movement. If you feel passionate about something, however small it may be, that is likely your calling and is likely your best entry point into an environmentally oriented career. I know so many amazing women that have found their way into environmental careers by starting with simple questions: How can I reduce my waste? How can I improve my health? How can I help my community? Why is that incinerator being built here? How come the water is brown? So I think the best advice I can give a woman who wants to pursue an environmental career is to stay curious and listen to your inner voice. It may sound like a whisper but it will likely guide you in the right direction.
4) What barriers have you faced as a female leader?
Kacey: While I have personally encountered and still continue to encounter ageism and misogyny within the environmental movement, I know that I am privileged because I identify as a cis-gender white woman. As a cis-gender white woman, I recognize that I only have a white, heterosexual female frame of reference and that my experience is not the experience of my colleagues who may identify as transgender, black, indigenous, or people of color. I also recognize that as a cis-gender white woman it is important for me to listen to those who identify as transgender and/or people of color, hear their perspectives and seek to understand how I can help to break down barriers faced by my colleagues.
5) What do you think are the qualities of a great leader?
Kacey: I think the ability to hold space for others’ viewpoints and to avoid binary thinking is critical. This is going to sound very Brene Brown, but I think great leaders maintain clear values and are emotionally courageous (willing to be vulnerable). I respect leaders that genuinely care about others, stay curious, and operate from self-awareness, not self-protection.
6) Who is a woman that inspires you now or in the past? How have you used their lessons in your growth?
Kacey: I am so lucky to have so many wonderful women that inspire me every day. If I have to pick just one though, I will always pick my mom. My mom experienced a lot of trauma in her life, but she was always clear about her values. She valued integrity, kindness, and compassion, and her values were her guiding light. Despite a lot of hardship and darkness, she made sure to instill those values in us (my brother and I). She always said you should ‘fight for the underdog’. I miss my mom a lot but she is still a guiding light for me every day.
Thank you for celebrating Women’s History Month with the Trust! We encourage you to look at women in your life who have influenced you and thank them for their inspiration.