Rachel Taylor is a junior at Colorado State University (CSU) pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Communications with a minor in Global Environmental Sustainability. She hails from Larkspur, Colorado, a small town outside of Denver. She fell in love with Fort Collins as soon as she took the CSU campus tour and has been making a positive impact on the community’s sustainability efforts ever since.

During her freshman year, Rachel was a CSU Eco Leader, tasked with raising awareness about and encouraging sustainability practices on campus. She worked alongside the EcoCAR3 team her sophomore year, building excitement for CSU’s entry in the national Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC). Rachel is now the Communications Manager for this year’s EcoCAR project at the CSU Energy Institute and a shared intern for Colorado C3E and Toolbox Creative.

My time at CSU so far has been a process of mentors and mentees — inspirational people who are influential to me. Clean energy is just the beginning, too. I didn’t know there was so much room for career growth in this path, and I’m really glad that my other eco opportunities have led me here.

What first sparked your interest in sustainability and clean energy?

When I was in high school, I took an AP Environmental Sciences class with the best teacher possible, Jenny Dallman. She’s been my inspiration through it all, from sustainability to clean energy. Her class was amazing, she ran the Castle View Goes Green club outside of school, and she led a trip to Belize to study the rainforest and coral reefs.

My sister Emily also inspired me to look towards sustainability. When she was a student at CSU, she applied for the director job at the Student Sustainability Center and got it. She met so many different people within the School of Global Environmental Sustainability that way. That’s how she made the connections to build her career to where she is now, at the private energy company Invenergy. She’s definitely a role model of mine.

Working with the EcoCAR3 team last year really got me into clean energy specifically. It was incredible to watch a group of people transform a Chevy Camaro into a hybrid electric vehicle.

What do you consider the most important aspect of being able to work in the clean energy world?

To notice that you are trying to do something good for the world. Knowing fully that you are contributing to a greater change is as impactful as it gets.

How have your personal experiences informed your passion for the field?

The trip to Belize during high school opened my eyes. We first stayed in the rainforest, where we did forestry and animal studies. Then we went to the coral reef, Glover’s Reef, 50 miles off the coast. We stayed on an island and did lots of research on the coral bleaching that was happening. It was interesting to physically see it — we were in the water looking at all the coral. When you Google coral reef, it’s so colorful. That’s not what it looked like at all. It was gray and black and white; it was like a ghost land almost, super sad.

It’s global warming. Humans are doing this to the Earth. There’s not much we can do besides change our ways and live more sustainably. Learning about the effects of environmental change on that trip inspired me to really get to know the logistics of the environment.

How have you become involved in sustainability at CSU?

My sister helped me get into the Eco Leader program my freshman year, which really paved the way for other opportunities. As an Eco Leader, you take the whole spring semester to take on a big project — it has to impact the school. I worked with Emily and another student, and we decided to team up with the Student Sustainability Center as the sponsor. We made a story map of all the sustainability activities on campus, including ZipCars, water bottle stations and LEED-certified buildings. It’s a map of campus with little icons you can click to find more information about the sustainability aspects. The project was a success and is still sponsored by the Student Sustainability Center today.

It would be great for another Eco Leader to pick it up. Eco Leaders are all freshmen, and they need to learn to project manage [like I did], especially if they want to advance in a sustainability career. My Eco Leader mentor told me, “Any time you want to come back and tell them what you’re doing with your life now, you should because it’s inspirational to them.” And I would love to. That’s what my sister did when I was an Eco Leader.

Emily also helped me get involved with the EcoCAR project. Last semester, she was the communications manager for the EcoCAR3. She knew I liked the field and asked for my help. I would go the Powerhouse with her twice a week, bring my DSLR camera and take pictures of the car. Then we would post them on Instagram and Twitter. We got pretty good attention and at least 100 more followers.

After that part of the project was over, Emily had to leave because she was graduating. So I pursued the position and got it! I’ll be the communications manager for the EcoCAR this year and am very excited. The building of the car doesn’t start until October, but meetings have just started up.

My time at CSU so far has been a process of mentors and mentees — inspirational people who are influential to me. Clean energy is just the beginning, too. I didn’t know there was so much room for career growth in this path, and I’m really glad that my other eco opportunities have led me here.

What is the most difficult challenge you’ve had to overcome as a woman in your studies so far? How did you overcome it?

I haven’t stumbled on any gender barriers yet, luckily. For example, most of the Eco Leaders my year were girls. So the biggest challenge has been internal — from myself. People go through phases of not believing in themselves or believing they are not good enough to do something. But it’s all about getting into the groove and proving people wrong, and proving to yourself that you can do way more than you think. Life is all about taking chances.

Do you see a future for yourself in the clean energy space after college?

I know I want to do something in the communications field with sustainability, which is why I’m studying what I’m studying. Ideally, I’d be a communications expert within a company that provides sustainability offerings, whether it be clean energy or not. Clean energy and sustainability career paths both need not only engineers, but people with communication skills and business skills — a combination of people with different stories, backgrounds and skills.

I guess I’ll see where the wind takes me. It’s really all about connecting yourself with the campus community, getting to know different people and having good job references so you can get where you want when you’re done with school.

How do you think C3E can encourage more women to pursue a career in clean energy?

This story campaign is a huge step. As the Colorado C3E intern, I’ve been conducting the interviews of the women profiled in the campaign, and it has been so inspiring.

How would you like to see sustainable energy use and consumption evolve?

I want to see Fort Collins move into more clean energy. It would be great to see other cities and towns along the Front Range of Colorado adapt to more clean energy-based functions, too. For example, my hometown is really close to Castle Rock, where I went to high school. Castle Rock is a continuously growing city; every time I come home, there’s a new building. It would be awesome to see some of the buildings be certified LEED or built with low energy consumption. Evolving clean energy in smaller cities along the Front Range is a great start to seeing clean energy evolve, especially in Colorado.

Any thoughts on your legacy?

I want my legacy to reflect the impact I’ve made on the world. I want to be the kind of person that brought food into the world but also made it a better place for future generations. I want to be a role model to my younger siblings and I want to prove the world wrong about gender barriers, especially within fields like sustainability. I want my legacy to inspire others to do good and make a change when it’s necessary.