Hawks to Watch: Eric Beightel, Environmental Policy Associate Director


Eric Beightel. B.G.S. Environmental Studies (2001). Associate Director, Environmental Policy Practice, WSP USA.

Why Eric’s a Hawk to Watch:

Environmental sustainability underpins Eric’s varied and impactful career supporting telecommunications, the Kansas Army National Guard, the Obama administration and California High-Speed Rail.  Lawrence born and raised, Eric completed a KU degree in Environmental Studies in 2001. His first job after KU was with an engineering firm in Kansas City, where he was tasked with environmental permitting for telecommunications projects in the western United States. He then moved on to work with the KS Army National Guard as their natural resources manager,  restoring native prairie and developing resource management plans for the 3,600-acre camp used for realistic training. After 3 years there, he moved to the Washington, D.C., area to work for the Federal Highway Administration, environmentally clearing transportation projects in national parks, wildlife refuges and forests throughout the eastern United States before accepting a position as senior environmental policy advisor in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation. In that role he worked with the Obama White House to modernize and improve federal environmental permitting and reviews for infrastructure. Eric is currently the Associate Director of the Environmental Policy Practice for WSP USA, splitting his time between Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, California, where he provides strategic advice on accelerating environmental approvals for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Tell us, in 140 characters or less, what you do for a living:

Leading the environmental policy practice at WSP USA, I provide strategic advice to major infrastructure clients on how to accelerate environmental approvals.

What do you feel is your biggest achievement so far?

Personally, it would be becoming a father and not being terrible at it.  Professionally, it would be the short stint I had serving in the Obama White House as an environmental policy advisor.  There is no equivalent to working in such an environment and the lessons learned during that experience have informed everything I’ve done professionally moving forward.

What’s your lowest career moment and how did you pick yourself up and move on?

I’ve been fortunate to not have had any truly terrible career moments.  There have been bumps in the road, for sure.  The most important thing you can do is to take the long view, understand that everything is a learning opportunity and that everyone makes mistakes.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

I was in public service at the state and federal level for 11 years before re-entering the private sector.  I think that I ultimately will want to return to public service and help drive environmental policy that promotes sustainability, resiliency and equity.

What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self?

Spend less time at the Hawk and more time engaging with fellow students across campus in activities that broaden your perspective.  I was a Lawrence kid who went to KU and lived off campus with friends from high school.  It was great fun but it was a missed opportunity to challenge myself and move me out of my comfort zone.  Also, it took me a little longer to walk down the Hill than it should have, which my parents were none too happy about.

What’s your best career pro-tip?

Set boundaries early to protect “your” time.  I’ve been working “on-call” for years and if there is one thing that I wish I were better at it would be setting limits on “work” time versus “personal” time.  We are all accessible 24/7 thanks to technology and it’s easy for driven people to want to always engage to make sure they are on top of every email that comes through on their phone or tablet when away from the office.  But that wears on you, it distracts from the other important things in your life and can lead to burn out.  So, my pro-tip: take time for yourself to recharge, spend quality, uninterrupted time with friends and family, and know your limits.  Not everything is an emergency – that email can wait until tomorrow.

What do you do after you’ve clocked out?

Considering my pro-tip, I better have some good off the clock activities!  My weekends are spent with the family, running from swim class to dance class to sports camp to impromptu baseball/soccer/football games in the yard.  I’m raising the kids right though; they know the Rock Chalk Chant and have already stated their intention to go to KU.

What is a fun fact about you that surprises people?

I’m part of a Big XII, bi-partisan marriage.  My wife is a Baylor grad who was a Bush 43 appointee.

Eric took over the KU College Instagram live from California on 21 December 2017 (12.21.2017):

During his Takeover he introduced us to highlights from his career and life, including KU environmental studies classes with Dr Earnhart, meetings at the White House, meeting giant turtles, a Coach Self signed basketball, and passing on the Jayhawk torch to his children. Eric rounded of his takeover with the KU men’s basketball game at Stanford. Takeover highlights are below, with full captions here.

Hawks to Watch are disrupters. They’re poised for greatness, inspiring their colleagues and excelling in their professions. Basically, they’re killing it. Having recently graduated, they are just starting to leave their mark and we can’t wait to see how their story unfolds. These Jayhawks span all industries including business, non-profits, tech, healthcare, media, law and the arts.