Valle de Bravo Mexico
By Jeff Berckes (2013)
A wind turbine captures energy from the environment, spinning the propeller blades around and around. Those blades connect to a shaft that spins a generator to create electricity. If you’re like me, that’s about the extent of your understanding of how that works. Ceci Simon, on the other hand, could deliver the lecture on not just wind energy, but mechanics as a whole.
Ceci graduated from University with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering – not exactly the typical path for a conservationist. Yet, the principles learned in the engineering field lend Ceci a way to shape her life and her work in a way that efficiently captures energy from her environment to produce a consistent output of positive results.
Born in Mexico City, a career in conservation wasn’t even in the consideration set until her husband started graduate school in Chicago. Ceci held a Visa that allowed her to be in the US with her partner but she couldn’t earn an income during her stay. Not content to sit at home all day, Ceci started volunteering for the Lincoln Park Zoo, giving tours for young children on field trips. Whiles zoos may not always align with views of many conservationists, they can raise awareness and spark interest in the young and old to care about the creatures, where they’re from, and how to protect their native habitats. For Ceci, volunteering at the Lincoln Park Zoo sparked that interest.
Ceci sat in on a lecture regarding chimpanzees and the research of Jane Goodall that sparked a change in her life, her career, and how she sees the world. In fact, Ceci cited Goodall as her biggest inspiration: “Jane Goodall was totally an inspiration for me. I didn’t know about her until I joined the research team but I read all of her books after I started and she’s remained an inspiration since. I love what she’s done for conservation, not only the fieldwork, but her advocacy.”
After her time in Chicago drew to a close, Ceci challenged herself with an internship in the Peruvian Amazon for 3 months. Living in the middle of the jungle, Ceci truly and fully fell in love with conservation work. Ceci says: “Being outside in nature, being in the rain forest, that’s what keeps me going. My kids and nature. I always get so inspired, especially in the Amazon. When you think about biodiversity, I think about Africa and the big animals. But the jungle, you think, where are the big animals? After a while, you start to look and start to see the butterfly and the small details, but we’re not used to seeing those small things.”
"Being outside in nature, being in the rain forest, that’s what keeps me going. My kids and nature. I always get so inspired, especially in the Amazon."
Ceci started a position focused on forest carbon credits in 2007 and never looked back, developing expertise in the emerging area of Forest Carbon and Conservation Finance. Applying to Kinship in 2014 was a difficult decision at the time, raising two young children, but she was rewarded by finding a network of likeminded people. “My work is very focused on one particular thing and that’s what I love about Kinship. I can tell you how to develop a forestry carbon project but I don’t feel like I’m having a big influence. That’s what Kinship gives us is that we have all these little small pieces around the world and it brings us together. We’re tiny but when we work together, we can accomplish much much more.”
It was the subjects like behavior change that she learned the most from the Kinship program. It is refreshing to hear a classically trained engineer appreciated a soft science like behavior change the most, but that just speaks volumes about Ceci as a lifelong learner and someone open to incorporating new information to be more successful day to day.
While Ceci insists her friends would call her quiet, passionate, and maybe even a little weird, her outlook on work and life reads like it could be from a best-selling book on leadership. Her main advice to a young professional starting in the field of conservation is to always stick to your principles and values, even in the face of adversity. She’s also gained an appreciation for the need to meet your counterpart somewhere in the middle. The only way to do that is to listen first and collaborate to the best outcome.
A self-described perfectionist, Ceci loves to challenge herself while managing to keep an ideal work-life balance. In fact, she was most proud of raising two people who are “nice and kind and worry about the environment and making a difference.” As for the future, Ceci isn’t interested in looking too far ahead. Instead, she left me with the perfect mantra we can all keep in mind as we work through the challenges of a career in conservation:
Live every day presently.
Ceci Simon is interested in working on Forest Carbon and Conservation Finance issues with Kinship Fellows.
I asked Ceci to share with us one of her favorite recipes and she has obliged with a delicious Mexican Bean Soup:
Soak 1-2 cups of dried beans in water overnight
In an instapot/pressure cooker, cover beans in water.
Add salt and half an onion, roughly chopped
Optional – add a few leaves of epazote, an aromatic herb.
Cook for 12 minutes under high pressure
Place cooked beans in blender, add vegetable broth and preferred spice mix
Blend mixture, adding water to attain desired consistency if necessary
Garnish with sour cream, avocado, shredded cheese, queso fresco &/or baked tortillas*
If you’d like to spice up your bean soup, try adding a chipotle pepper!
*Baked tortilla: cut corn tortilla into strips
Coat with olive oil and salt
Bake 8 minutes at 350 degrees
Fellows Talking to Fellows is a new Community initiative designed to share personal and professional stories of individual Kinship Fellows through one-on-one interviews between Fellows.