It’s a buzzing Monday afternoon downtown at the Impact Sciences office. Across from me at our oval-shaped wooden table is a bright-eyed environmental enthusiast with a blossoming career ahead of him. Only a couple months ago, Raul Castillo transitioned from an intern with the company to a full-time Staff Planner, all while completing his master’s degree in Urban Planning at the University of Southern California.
Besides being a self-proclaimed juggler of random objects (perhaps a figurative prerequisite in the world of CEQA planning), Raul had a pretty interesting pathway into environmental consulting. Maybe if you knew him a few years ago, you’d find him sitting in a business class at California Lutheran University, where he eventually earned an undergraduate degree in Business Administration. It might have seemed like a far cry from environmental planning, but, if you ask Raul, it was a perfect recipe for the evolution of his career.
Most days, Raul sits behind a computer, tapping away on a keyboard, assisting in the preparation of multiple CEQA documents for the Los Angeles Unified School District, City of Los Angeles, the Southern California Association of Governments, and City of Petaluma to name a few. I imagine his brain is filled with burning CEQA questions as a new planner. But what really goes on in the mind of a recent graduate making strides in the world of environmental compliance? I sat down with Raul to find out.
Kara: So tell me about you, and why you chose to work in the environmental field?
Raul: Well, I studied urban planning at USC, and I would say some of my favorite classes were dealing with sustainability—the balance between economic growth, the environment, and equity, and just bringing that balance to development. So that’s kind of what interested me in the environmental side. Before that, I was actually more interested in economic development, and then those classes opened my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for a balance between that growth and protecting the environment and equity as well.
Kara: So you were initially interested in Economic Development. How did that interest come about for you?
Raul: I studied business in undergrad, but I was much more interested in overall bigger picture classes like Economics as well as International Development. And when I studied abroad was one of the biggest eye-openers as well. I studied abroad in Costa Rica and while there, I saw that stark contrast between resort towns and, then right next to it, people struggling to get running water. And so when I came back, my business classes were all profits oriented and just very one dimensional. I’ve always had this feeling that there’s something missing. Just seeing that was a real eye opener for me.
Kara: So, how did you land in your position at Impact Sciences?
Raul: It was through Impact Sciences’ environmental planning internship recommended by one of my favorite professors at USC, Ms. Castillo (no relation). She was a really good professor. Her classes dealt with equity and environmental justice. I started interning at Impact Sciences in the summer of 2018, and really enjoyed it.
Kara: Very cool. So what made Ms. Castillo your favorite professor at USC?
Raul: It was really the class she taught. It was an eye opener about redlining. And coming from a business background, it was my first time seeing the equity issues that come with urban planning and how these aren’t random mistakes, these are all planned. It shows today—what the effects are of previous planning mistakes.
Kara: Are there any other environmental issues that interest you?
Raul: More specifically, with CEQA reports, I enjoy the cultural resources sections. My colleagues and I talked about it recently—historic buildings and monuments and the preservation of historical resources. We don’t sometimes think of those as environmental issues, but they are. They are a part of our environment and resources that we want to protect. I get really interested in what we consider a cultural resource. I know right now there are standards that we follow, but it doesn’t have to be a specific type of building and event. And then you get into resources that are bars but events happen at them, or parks where protests happen within that park. That can be a huge historic area, and I think we need to recognize those areas.
Kara: So you’ve been with the company over a year now, first as an intern and now as a staff planner. So far in your experience, what do you enjoy most about working for the company?
Raul: I really enjoy the environment and the culture that we have here, and we all get along. Even when we’re just having conversations at lunch, we‘re always learning either about each other or about how we can improve as a collective group but also sometimes personal growth or about the books we’re reading. We’re always trying to improve, even though I struggle with the caffeine thing.
Kara: Same. You’re not alone in the caffeine struggle. [Both in laughter] Speaking of improvements, in the next year, what major professional goals do you have for yourself?
Raul: I really want to nail down being able to go through the analysis portion of our [CEQA] documents and be able to handle that on my own. Right now, I’m doing the analysis, but I have to check if I’m doing it right sometimes. So my goal is to be a lot more comfortable in doing it on my own.
Kara: That’s a really good goal to have. On the flipside, what things do you enjoy doing when you’re not working on your professional goals?
Raul: I really enjoy just seeing parts of the city. Since the office has moved to downtown Los Angeles, I’ve started to come out here more since I’m more familiar with the area. So I enjoy going to different restaurants downtown. Spring Street is really fun—that’s probably my favorite part of the city just because there’s so much going on within that one-block radius.
Kara: Well, thank you, Raul. That’s all for now. That was easy, right?
Raul: Yes! Thank you.
The team at Impact Sciences is extremely proud of Raul’s accomplishments! If you wish to connect with Raul or send him your well wishes, feel free to drop him a note via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.