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Isaiah Bates ‘19 Uses His Individualized Major in the Environmental Field

Isaiah Bates '19
Isaiah Bates '19

As an incoming student at Keene State in 2014, Isaiah Bates thought he would major in computer science and make it big in the high-tech industry. Soon, this native Vermonter, who grew up sugaring with his family on a farm in Hartland, felt a pull toward biology and environmental sciences. Under the direction of environmental studies professor Nora Traviss, he created an individualized major in natural resources management and policy. “Dr. Traviss saved me,” Isaiah said recently. “She was the best professor I ever had.”

After graduating in 2019, Isaiah joined AmeriCorps in Montana, working on a forestry project, then learned land surveying in Colorado. This past spring, now living in Portland, Maine, Isaiah decided to apply for a job in Westbrook as an environmental permitting specialist with Walsh Engineering Associates, a nine-person civil engineering firm juggling 300 active jobs. “I was not the best qualified for the job,” Isaiah said with some modesty, “but Dr. Traviss encouraged me to apply anyway, based on my background and ability to handle details.” He got the job, and is now immersed in myriad of details of the numerous permits – often as many as six for each job – that can make or break a schedule.

“We need permits from the town, the State, and sometimes the Army Corp of Engineers for site plans, wetlands, storm water run-off, and other construction details for projects of all sizes,” he said. If a project might impact Tribal lands, Isaiah notifies all five indigenous Maine tribes and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. “My mother is Native American in part,” Isaiah said, “and I am sensitive to that. Unfortunately, the tribes don’t always have the capacity to research potential environmental impact on their lands.”

His new job carries a huge learning curve, but also the satisfaction of meeting a big challenge and helping the Walsh team of engineers. Isaiah gives credit to everyone in Keene State’s environmental studies department for being helpful and supportive.

Isaiah said, “If I was talking to an incoming class at Keene State,” he said, “I’d tell them a college degree is not about making six figures. How you talk to people, how you are willing to learn and grow – that’s what matters. Your qualifications on paper mean nothing if you don’t have those skills.”

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