We all have heroes. People who influence our lives in such profound ways that they not only inspire us to do more, they inspire us to be more. When I met Mary Spruill I was inspired to be more because she showed me the possibility of having a career in the field of renewable energy. The idea that I could make a living in this world by following my passion and working in the renewable sector was novel to me. I always thought that I would have to either be an environmental advocate OR make a stable living, I didn’t know that I could do both. She led me to this realization by example. As a true powerhouse, Mary was not only making a living as an environmental advocate, she was the executive director of a national organization known as the National Energy Education Development project! My life changed forever one fateful summer in 2007 when Mary Spruill flew me to Washington DC and gave me an award and by-so-doing, changed my life forever.
The result of meeting Mary , for me, has been less of a ripple effect and more like a “tidal wave effect.” Her networking and assistance helped me get into college, helped me stay on my career path, helped me connect with amazing people and most recently, helped me begin the career of my dreams. The way that she did this was though networking. Mary is a big fan of networking and she is truly a master of it. She gave my name to a colleague who needed a presenter to come to the American Solar Energy Society’s National Solar Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. At that conference I met Glen Kizer, a champion for energy education and a great new friend, and I also was able to network and socialize with all of the solar companies that were present. So many solar companies, so many business opportunities for a young, recent college grad, and so little time! I made my way through the crowds and found the companies I had researched the night before. I had one company at the top of my list, and after a solid three days of networking and resume pedaling, I secured myself several offers, one being with my first choice. It was a good weekend, to say the least. I ended up getting the job of my dreams with an American solar company that I am completely smitten over and my life has been forever changed! And it is no exaggeration or even stretch to say, it is all in part thanks to Mary.
Mary Spruill speaking at the solar celebration at the Para Los Ninos Charter School in Los Angeles
Whether Mary knows how much impact she has on the children and young adults she interacts with or not is unclear to me. If she does know, she is far too modest. The following interview, which I was lucky enough to schedule with her this month, shows her modesty and her realness in its true light. She is more than an inspiration; she is a shining example of a selfless service to children, the environmental sector and the world. I hope to be just like Mary when I grow up.
An interview with Mary Spruill
Q: Where were you born?
Roanoke, Virginia. I lived there for 18 years and my family still lives there.
Q: Did you have brothers or sisters?
A: No, I was an only child. Having no brothers or sisters required me to really choose my closest friends who are, in many ways, the siblings I didn’t actually have. I learned to choose my friends carefully and was all the better for it. I enjoyed being an only child.
Q: Did you like school? What was your favorite subject?
A: I liked school a lot. I loved elementary school. Good teachers are what made me love school. The great teachers in my life had a substantial impact on who I became and what I did with my life. Math was always difficult for me but I did my best. I was always drawn to engineering but math was a roadblock for me on that path, so instead I designed my career around my strengths. In 7th and 8th grade I had teachers who were involved in the National Energy Education Development Project and they really inspired me. I participated in a year-long energy education outreach program and we submitted a NEED youth awards project and got to go to the awards ceremony in Washington DC. It was very exciting and I knew I wanted to be a part of this organization beyond my middle school participation. After this, several of us became NEED tutors in our four feeder elementary schools. This was the beginning and I’ve worked for NEED ever since. I worry sometimes about the fact that I’ve never had a “real job”, haha! But I love every minute of it!
Comment: This statement by. Mary made me laugh but then it also made me stop to think… Our society is so focused on the virtue of “hard work” that when someone finds a job that takes considerable time and work and effort but at the same time makes them happy and smile every day, they worry that they don’t have a real job… All this thought made me feel was gratitude that Mary helped me learn that lesson young; I can go to work every day in a good mood and still be a productive member of society and have a “real job.” Thank you Mary for leading by example!
Q: What did you want to be when you “grew up”?
A: It changed frequently. I wanted to be a doctor but life sciences didn’t interest me. Then I wanted to be a vet, but I hated cats. When I was in college I wanted to work for the US Foreign Service, and work in America’s embassies and consulates around the world. I took the Foreign Service Exam, got the job and then realized I really liked what I was doing part-time at NEED. I started as an undergrad only working a few days a week and worked my way all the way to becoming executive director in 2007. In 2007, I felt like the title finally caught up with the workload. I was used to having a lot of responsibility but very little authority. With the new title, I was finally really able to make things happen and consider our strategy for helping more kids, teachers, and individuals understand energy! Our organization is growing and our staff is young and energized. The best part is we are advocates for knowledge about energy issues, not advocates for any one particular issue. I love my job.
Q: What is your favorite part about your job today?
A: Hanging out with our teachers and students and the energy professionals we work with each day! I also love discussing energy issues and solutions with our students, they are so full of hope and inspiration – yes, that’s you Roxie! . Energy is an amazing subject in which both social and physical sciences come together; from deciding which type of energy to use, to where to produce it, to its long term implications, it all has both a social and scientific aspect – I love this about energy. Energy can never be created nor destroyed, and it is most certainly not boring.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to kids growing up in the world today, about becoming successful leaders of the “green movement” what would it be?
A: The biggest piece of advice I have for kids is to figure out what you like to do and figure out how to meet the people you need to help you do it. The people you have around you and have in your network are everything. Once you figure that out, then you also have to find a way to also make the world around you a better place with that passion. Everything we do on this planet – from food production to oil drilling to green energy solutions – everything can be done in a better, cleaner, more efficient way and that should be our universal goal. To do what we do, in a better, cleaner, more sustainable fashion. So, no matter what you have a passion for, even if it’s not in the energy sector, you can still influence the energy consumption of our planet by working to improve efficiency within your field. We can all make the world a better place; we just have trust that what we are good at is what we were put here to do… even if it means never getting a “real job.”
I would just like to say, one more time, on behalf of everyone whose life has ever been improved by Mary Spruill, Thank You!!! for your service, your energy, your attitude and your humor, we all love you, Mary.
Roxie Brown in Washington DC