Environmental Works, Inc. waded in a cold, spring-fed creek outside Branson, Missouri, and chatted with Compliance Project Manager Keslie Naffa in February 2021. Keslie talked about her bat obsession and how she loves her Springfield Compliance Team.
Position – Compliance Project Manager
Office – Springfield
Tenure at EWI – One year
Hobbies – Hiking, spelunking, walking her dogs, rescuing bats
Degree and College – Master of Science in Biology with concentrations in Immunology and Bat Biology from Missouri State University
Marital status – Engaged
EWI: What do you like most about your job?
Keslie: I really love waste work, like the PPEC (Pollution Prevention Environmental Compliance) team. It’s not glamorous, and I think that’s why I enjoy it. Sitting in an office you are expected to be writing reports all day and doing all of these random little tasks, and with PPEC it’s so much more than that. You get to talk to clients, to critically think about what type of waste they have and how to dispose of it.
I also like training. It’s one of my favorite things about EWI. Being a trainer and actually going to sites and being able to train people is something I’m really passionate about.
And then obviously getting out into the field and getting my hands dirty is really, really fun. I do sit in my office the majority of the time, so being able to get out there either once a week or several times a month is a really nice change of pace.
EWI: So you enjoy the field work?
Keslie: I do. I mean, I don’t love having to move around hundreds and hundreds of feet of filter sock, but if I get some cool views with it down in Taney County, I’ll take it as a win.
EWI: What do you like least about your job?
Keslie: Probably that every single thing we do is on a deadline. You don’t just get to write a report and it goes out when it goes out. You have 10 days or you have one month. Every single task we get is on a deadline. And sometimes that’s really nice because it keeps you in check. And other times, like during Tier 2 season, or whenever a client gets a violation, that’s whenever it becomes really stressful.
EWI: What does a typical day at work look like for you?
Keslie: There’s no typical day, if that’s an answer. I would say 95 percent of the time, I come into the office and think I’m going to do this, this, this, and this, and I’ll have 100 things on my to-do list and by the end of the day I’ll have two of those things done and I’ll have 200 other things added. You can walk into the doors of EWI and think you know exactly what you’re doing and then after five minutes of sitting at your desk you get an email and the whole rest of the week is just a completely different ballgame. You have no idea.
I can’t even plan what I’m going to wear any more. The majority of time I have a spare change of clothes in the car because I just never know.
EWI: But I’m guessing you enjoy the change of pace.
Keslie: I do. And I think that’s probably why a lot of people stay with EWI. If you don’t like that change of pace, it’s probably not the best place for you. There’s a spot at EWI for everybody, but if you don’t enjoy things changing constantly, then I can’t really tell you how long you’ll last.
It’s not for someone that wants a normal 9-5. If you think you’re going to come in every single week and work Monday through Friday, 9-5, you’re sadly mistaken.
EWI: What does a typical week look like at EWI?
Keslie: Mondays are more for catching up on things that I got in over the weekend and Tuesdays-Fridays are just free-for-alls. No clue what’s going on half the time.
EWI: How much time do you spend out of the office?
Keslie: I would say about four to eight times a month. That could be anywhere from a local inspection, to going down to Taney County, to going on a Covid-19 ER.
There are times when I’m in the office Monday-Friday and there are times when I’m out of the office Tuesday-Friday. It just kind of depends on what we have going on that week.
EWI: How many hours a week do you typically work?
Keslie: I would say 45 to 50 hours. I think here recently it would be closer to 50 because of our lack of help. I would say on average 45 though.
EWI: How do you feel about the manual work you perform?
Keslie: I really like it because I am in the office so much. But I can see how people that are in the field every single day really have resentment toward manually labor.
There are times when our field days are really easy and we just go out there and do our inspections. We maybe move some things around, but it’s not real heavy lifting. And then there are days when we move filter sock and do water quality monitoring and biological monitoring and its full physical activity all day. But those are nice days to be a part of because you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you don’t have time to worry about everything else.
There are times when people say they’re going to go out and do inspections and it’s going to be so fun, but then you just go to a site and you’re picking up trash.
It kind of depends on what kind of field work you’re looking for. You’re never going to get just manual labor. You’re never going to just be a janitor. You’re going to be both.
EWI: Where did you work previous to EWI?
Keslie: I had worked for a property management company. I did that full-time through my undergraduate and part-time through my graduate degree. Not only was I doing that, but I was also getting my masters, so I was teaching for the university, as well.
EWI: What did you teach?
Keslie: I taught Human Anatomy, Advanced Physiology, and Microbiology.
It was fun. I really enjoyed teaching.
EWI: What did you go to school for?
Keslie: I have my Master’s in Biology with an emphasis in Immunology and Bat Biology.
I had always loved environmental things, but this job just kind of fell in my lap. They had an opening for an associate scientist. I went to school with (an EWI employee) and she put in a good word for me. I said I would give it a try and I ended up really liking it.
EWI: Was your plan to go into another field?
Keslie: My plan was to go into academia and either work at a community college or get my Ph.D. I guess those two options are never off the table, but I really like what I’m doing and don’t see myself leaving any time soon.
EWI: How do you feel about your coworkers?
Keslie: Without my coworkers, I probably wouldn’t stay at EWI.
I think without them, all of us would be in a world of hurt. We have a really good team.
Regardless of how much responsibility each of us have, we all have the same responsibility to each other, and that’s to make sure that the work gets done.
EWI: How do you feel about your opportunities for advancement?
Keslie: I’ve advanced pretty quickly. I think that the opportunity to continue advancing is completely open for me. The opportunity to continue to be a project manager and work my way up to a principal scientist is pretty good.
I just think a lot of people need to know to ask for it and be assertive and make sure that they’re being recognized for their work.
It’s pretty difficult to move up at a corporate job, but if you do a good job here you’ll definitely get noticed regardless of whether you get a manager title after a year or not.
We have culture moments when people really step up and do a good job on something and everyone on the team recognizes it (during the Springfield Compliance team’s weekly Monday meeting). It just makes for good work ethic and a stronger team, I think.
EWI: How do you feel about your compensation and benefits?
Keslie: I think they’re alright. I think our benefits are good. I definitely think a lot of our team members, including myself, could be compensated a little higher. But I feel like that’s a normal answer.
The benefits are nice because I get unlimited PTO, and while PTO in and of itself is not unlimited because you still have the work to do, it is nice to be able to have a relationship with your boss and say you need a mental day and just take half a day of PTO. They’re always really good about saying that’s fine.
EWI: Do you have any other certifications?
Keslie: I am certified in bat rehabilitation and bat handling. I have all of my vaccines for bats and all of my certifications through NASBR (the North American Society for Bat Research).
And then I have my annual trainings.
EWI: How did you get into bat research?
Keslie: I had originally started studying pit vipers and copperheads. I was going to do research on them, but my advisor and I did not get along at all because I’m a scheduler and he wasn’t. So I went out with my now advisor and did a field day and ended up freaking loving it. I stuck with it and found out all these cool things about bats and now I’m completely obsessed. I’m ate up with bats.
Scientific outreach is one of the things that I really, really enjoy, and that was part of his thing as an advisor was making sure students did a lot of outreach. That was a huge deal for me.
EWI: So you had no idea you liked bats so much?
Keslie: I didn’t, no. And it’s really funny because when I was little I grew up in a really awful trailer. And by dirt poor, I mean our bathroom literally had a hole in the floor and I could see the dirt. There were bats that used to come into our trailer, and my mom used to come in on me and check that I was sleeping and one time there was a bat sleeping on my stomach. She freaked out. I slept right through it. My mom always jokes that that bat must have bit me and that I became Batwoman.
I like it. I’ll gladly be known as Batwoman.
EWI: So you were raised by your mom?
Keslie: Yes, my mom was a single mom until she met my stepdad. But they didn’t meet until I was like 13.
EWI: Do you have any siblings?
Keslie: I do, but I didn’t meet them until December 3. I didn’t know that I had siblings until then.
I have two siblings, both sisters. They live with my biological dad.
EWI: Your mom must be a tough lady.
Keslie: She is. She worked two or three jobs my whole childhood. Same with my grandmother.
My grandma was also a single mom. It was just us three most of the time.
I just kind of watched my mom get shit done. She instilled that in me, I think.
EWI: What do you like to do outside of work?
Keslie: During the summer, I like going out and watching for bats. I love doing bat rehab. I like going out and helping people with bats. A lot of people contact me to come pick up a bat that’s in their attic or chimney. I love doing that. It’s super fun.
Outside of that, I go hiking a lot.
Honestly, my favorite thing to do after a long day of work is sit down and watch “Schitt’s Creek” for hours while I clean my house or make dinner. And I love reading. That’s something that not a lot of people do anymore.
EWI: So people call you to eradicate bats?
Keslie: Yeah people call me and say they have a bat in their chimney and that they don’t know what to do. And I’m like, “Oh cool, well how’d you get my phone number?”
And then I realized that whenever I registered on the Bat World Sanctuary (web)page they asked for my email address and phone number and I didn’t realize they put all of that information on their website. So people call me from all over the area, from Oklahoma to Arkansas to northern Missouri, like eight hours away.
I can’t tell you how many bats I’ve rescued just in Springfield.
EWI: What’s the furthest you’ve gone to do this?
Keslie: Like three hours away in Arkansas for one bat. But it was a cute ass bat.
EWI: Are you OK with your work/life balance?
Keslie: I try to maintain a good work/life balance regardless of my workload because I’m completely useless to my boss and my company if I’m not recharged. If I don’t come into work with a good brain, what’s the point of me coming in to work at all?
EWI: What could be changed to improve EWI?
Keslie: Hire more help and hire good help.
Just because we need people and we need people bad, it doesn’t mean we can hire just anybody. We need help that is qualified and good.
EWI: What would you not change about EWI?
Keslie: It seems like all of management has an open-door policy. I can walk up to the president of our company and say I need help and he will listen.
I’ve never worked for a company like that, and I don’t think a lot of those companies exist, not anymore.
That said, there’s always room for improvement.