April 22, 2024

APUS Alumni Stories: Supporting the Military’s Environmental Regulatory Affairs

Author: Melanie Conner
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By Melanie Conner, APUS Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison, and Shelby Jackson-Register, APU Graduate

For over a decade, Shelby Jackson-Register worked in a few different industries, including account management, customer service and policy improvement. But one day, she began to reconsider her job satisfaction. She says, “There came a time when I looked over my roles and responsibilities and thought, ‘What makes me happy?’ The answer was easy: anything related to the outdoors and environmental policy research.”

Start a degree program at American Public University.

In 2016, Shelby decided to go back to American Public University to earn her master of science in environmental policy and management. She got her degree in August 2018 and accepted a job as an environmental regulatory affairs specialist with Plexus Scientific in December 2018.

Providing Support to the Military and to the Environment

In her current position, Shelby is a contractor who supports the U.S. Army’s Regional Energy and Environment Offices (REEO) — Southern out of Atlanta, Georgia.

The Army Regional Environmental and Energy Offices represent the interests of the Army and Department of Defense at the state and regional level, and they support and advocate for military missions and facilities. Their close coordination between the military and state policymakers helps inform and shape legislation so those who make the laws understand their potential impact on military missions.

Shelby Jackson-Register
Shelby Jackson-Register

Part of her job is to sustain the Army’s training and mission requirements by ensuring that policy decisions made today — whether they involve air, water, waste, wildlife management, or other areas — will not adversely affect the military in the future. As a regulatory affairs specialist, Shelby serves as the “eyes and ears” for the Department of Defense/Army leadership on state regulatory and legislative trends.

Shelby also sets conditions for the development and strengthening of regional strategic partnerships in support of military readiness and sustainability. In addition, she publishes the “Southern Review of Legislative and Regulatory Actions,” which is a monthly serial that provides reports on legislative and regulatory actions in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Part of her published work includes identifying environmental trends in her region and predicting new actions that may affect the Army and DOD. Some of these actions include new legislation and regulations that may impact military installations, buffer zones/encroachment, and military training activities.

Shelby also attends regional partnership meetings and environmental conferences, writes situation reports, and assists with executive summaries for her office. She says, “I love that, although I am not in the military, I am still able to work with and support the military doing something I love. It’s a win-win for me.”

Shelby’s Interest in the Environment Began at a Young Age

Some of Shelby’s fondest memories were walks in the woods with her dad when she lived in New York. She says, “Whether it was fundraising to adopt a manatee or volunteering with the Earth Club in middle school, the outdoors was always my passion.”

“In 2016, I looked at my various jobs over the years. I pinpointed what responsibilities I had that made me happy: researching storm water guidelines, dangers of concrete discharge on construction sites, restoration project bid proposal creation. I thought, ‘Why am I not pursuing this interest?’”

Shelby performed additional research into environmental organizations and programs, such as The Wildlife Society, National Association of Environmental Professionals, Riverkeeper and the Upper Etowah River Alliance. She learned what was trending in terms of the environmental science fields, as well as local and direct impacts on the community watershed.

To find a job in her chosen field, Shelby spoke with persons in the environmental field, including executive directors at non-profit organizations and environmental attorneys. Locally, one individual who helped her understand the shift in environmental science and working collaboratively was Diane Minick, the former executive director to the Upper Etowah River Alliance, who explained the importance of establishing and maintaining partnerships with stakeholders for a collaborative approach to environmental challenges and trends. This information proved invaluable to Shelby as a regulatory affairs specialist.

Knowledge Gained from Her Master’s Program Has Proven Helpful

Shelby says that thoroughly understanding the meaning of collaborative approaches to environmental problem solving is something she learned in APU’s environmental policy and management program. She observes that she would not have had the confidence to research and to write monthly reports without the guidance she received from her master’s program.

Shelby notes, “My courses at APU helped prepare me for this career and also introduced me to career opportunities like the one I have. In my Research Methods for Environmental Science and Policy course, we had an assignment to research careers in the environmental science field. It was during this assignment that I learned about regulatory affairs and environmental policy analysis.”

She adds, “In my Environmental Toxicology course, we learned about Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) and remediation efforts for a copper mine project. Learning about MCLs helped me understand legislation that pertains to determining MCLs of various contaminants. My capstone course assisted with polishing my research capabilities, methodology and writing skills.”

The Challenge of Keeping Up with Environmental Legislation

Keeping up with current legislation is a big challenge in Shelby’s job. She says, “One of the biggest challenges that I face is the speed at which legislation is introduced and potentially enacted. For example, if you don’t have a solid organizational system in practice, you could miss out on a particular piece of legislation or regulatory action before it’s already marked to be enacted. You have to ensure you have solid research skills and have a passion for being a “sleuth” to discover items that may be difficult to find.”

She explains, “Each legislative session has a set schedule. Some of the states have very short sessions, while others have longer sessions that may cross over into the next year. For the states that have short sessions, you see a snowball effect wherein legislation starts slow with a few bills introduced and then gathers momentum as the middle and end of the session draws near.

“These bills can move so quickly that they can go from introduced to died/killed or sent to the governor in a week. If there is a bill that needs action, whether positive or negative engagement, it is imperative that as a regulatory affairs specialist, you identify this bill and immediately contact other team members for action.”

For others who seek a career in the environmental field, Shelby recommends that you look at where your strengths are. She says, “I knew I liked research, and I enjoyed writing. I also have a knack for being a sleuth and digging deeper on topics.

“Working as an environmental regulatory affairs specialist really checks all the boxes, so to speak, when it comes to what I enjoy. I am proud that the actions and items I author support the U.S. Army and its mission as well as other branches of our armed forces. I would also be open to mentoring current undergraduate and graduate students in the environmental policy path.”

Staying Active in Environmental Organizations

In her free time, Shelby says you can find her outdoors. She and her husband love hiking, camping, and kayaking. She also volunteers her time with various nonprofit organizations and enjoys teaching others about the natural world.

Shelby is active in the Wildlife Society chapter at APU. This organization works actively to study, manage, and conserve wildlife and habitats worldwide. She is also a member of the National Association for Environmental Professionals, which is an organization that is dedicated to ethical practices, technical competency, and professional standards in environmental professions.

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