Rising Star: Cliff Chapman cares about protecting nature

Rising Star: Cliff Chapman cares about protecting nature

Geology wasn’t Cliff Chapman’s first choice as a college major. He only knew he wanted a career that would let him help the environment.

Chapman found that career by taking a biogeography class taught by Professor Tim Brothers at Indiana University.

“We studied the distributions of plants and animals. Learned the niches of why animals live in some areas, but not others,” Chapman said. “It was all fascinating for me to think about.”

When Chapman told people he wanted to focus his career on conservation, many doubted him. Some told him to pursue a career in toxic cleanup.

“I wasn’t concerned with how much money I could make — just helping the environment, making this a better place to live,” he said.

Chapman was named conservation director at the Central Indiana Land Trust in 2008, where he works on land-protection projects. He was instrumental in the Land Trust’s $1 million purchase of land along the Muscatatuck River, which is inhabited by an endangered species, the Kirtland snake.

Prior to joining the Land Trust, Chapman had worked for The Nature Conservatory in Olympia, Wash., and at the Indiana State Department of Natural Resources, Division of Nature Preserves.

How did you manage to stand out in a crowd and advance quickly in your career?

Ever since I started out of college, I’ve never been concerned with my career or career advancement. I’ve always worked with government or nonprofits. I’ve concerned myself with fulfilling my employer’s mission. Any consequences from my career would be a part of that.

I feel like that has helped me advance my career more than anything else.

What was your first job experience? How did it affect your future?

Mr. D’s food market on the Southside. It was huge working in the grocery stores. I worked my way up to management. It was ever bit as important to me in my career as what I learned in college.

What I learned there is how to work with people — how to read people in different situations.

What’s the toughest mistake you ever made and what did you learn from it?

When I worked for the Division of Natural Resources, we were trying to find partners to support some projects, financially or otherwise.

A mistake I made in that process was that I took a relationship with a colleague, who was also a friend, for granted. I missed an appointment with him so I could meet with an outside group who wanted to partner with us. I put the project in front of my friendship with a co-worker. That was a mistake. If I could do it over again, I would.

How important is it to have a mentor? Did anyone in particular help you advance in your career?

It’s critical to have someone to look up to and ask questions. If you want to work up to the next level, it’s critical to ask questions.

When I think of mentors in my career, I think of John Bacone — director of the division of nature preserves. He is someone who is good at working with people and developing relationships. He sees the big pictures and doesn’t get upset about little things.

Another mentor was Ellen Jacquart of the Nature Conservancy. She is someone who I have tremendous respect for and the way she handles challenging situations.

What advice would you give to other young people trying to get started in conservation?

Remember it’s not about you, but about the mission. To be able to get into conservation, you have to be sacrificial to get the experience.

After seven years of college, I made just over minimum wage, but I learned an incredible amount.

Featured in the Indy Star on December 30th, 2012.  To read the complete article visit: http://www.indystar.com/article/20121229/BUSINESS/212300317/Rising-Star-Cliff-Chapman-cares-about-protecting-nature

Call Star reporter Jill Phillips at (317) 444-6246.