Alumna Feature: Rachel Shelar

Southface’s staff represents a diverse group of leaders in the fields of sustainability, equitable community development, environmental science, health, high performance building and sustainable design. Each day, staff members work hard to create a healthy built environment for all, and Southface is invested in the good work that each employee carries out within the organization and beyond. By keeping in touch with former employees, Southface is able to celebrate the accomplishments that alumni make and keep up to date with how they are bettering the world.

Rachel Shelar joined Southface in 2014 and worked her way from Intern to Coordinator. Last year, she ventured to Ohio with her husband and now works as a project assistant in Columbus. Southface caught up with Rachel and is excited to share her advancement in the Alumni Feature Series.

Tell us a little bit about your history with Southface. How did you first hear about the organization, and when did you work here?
My boyfriend at the time (Kavi, who is now my husband) was interviewing with a company in Atlanta, and he mentioned that I was looking for a job in the “green” industry which immediately made his interviewer say, “She should check out Southface!” When Kavi got home he handed me a piece of paper with “Tell Rach about Southface” on it, and I applied for an internship the next day. I immediately fell in love after reading about the organization online. This was right after we both graduated from Elon University in 2014. I was a Southface intern, then a fellow and then a coordinator until I left Atlanta in 2016 after Kavi got a job offer in Ohio he couldn’t ignore.

Where do you work now, what’s your title, and what do you do?
I work in Columbus, Oh as a Project Assistant in Smoot Construction’s Water Division. I’m on a Professional Construction Management (PCM) team and am currently stationed at a water treatment plant that’s adding significant capacity upgrades and new state-of-the-art buildings. Apart from a lot of documentation control and communication efforts among the contractor, City of Columbus and plant personnel, I also help manage the stormwater pollution prevention plan onsite, make sure this site and a few others around town are dealing with hazardous waste responsibly, help prepare the site for environmental audits and occasionally inspect work in some of the buildings.

How are you using the skills that you acquired at Southface in your current positon?
A lot of what I did at Southface focused on communication best practices, which definitely comes in handy whether I’m emailing the contractor about an important deadline or sensitive matter, or properly/succinctly conveying to my team what I’ve seen out on the job site that needs immediate attention. Additionally, I walked into Southface on my first day having a VERY limited knowledge of green building, and I was so lucky to be surrounded by such enthusiastic, kind individuals who were willing to share with me a lot of the science behind Southface’s mission. So, when someone here talks about R-Values or VOCs or the heat island effect, I can contribute to the conversation. A lot of the language I heard within Southface’s walls is similar to what I hear on the construction site. Also, Southface gave me a deeper knowledge of LEED certifications and the water plant is currently seeking LEED Silver for one of its buildings, so it’s nice to be able to join in on those discussions here too.

What are you hoping that the work you do accomplishes?
I’ve been really lucky, both at Southface and here in Columbus, when it comes to having mentors around me who are willing to share wisdom and take the time to help me understand “how stuff works” – it helps me do my job better. I’ve had people not only offer to explain systems and equipment within the buildings on site, but who have also gone the extra mile and taken me to actual rivers to dive deeper into how much goes into the entire process from start to finish. They’ve shown me how vital it is that we respect water and use it wisely. So, apart from hoping that the work I do here on a daily basis helps more people in Columbus have cleaner water, I also hope I too can become a mentor and teach others the importance of being better stewards of the planet.

What in your role has surprised you the most? Is there any relation to sustainability in your current position?
To be honest I didn’t know I was so interested in the technical stuff – anything from types of water pumps to proper installation of silt fences to prevention techniques for pipe corrosion. There’s so much that goes into water treatment, and I can’t even begin to understand half of it. I just try to insert myself in as many conversations as I can (even if they’re way over my head), hoping that over time the information will stick. And yes, so much of what we do here is sustainability focused because it’s all about how we treat and responsibly manage such a huge natural resource.

What’s your most memorable moment at Southface? 
Getting engaged on the Turner Foundation Green Roof is one of my favorite memories of all time. Kavi had contacted my manager and other team members, and they helped coordinate all of it. I was under the impression I was giving a tour to some folks after hours, but when I got to the roof there were candles and flowers and a handsome man in a suit with a small box in his hand. We just got married last month! I’m actually involved with a green roof installation that’s happening here at the water plant shortly, so green roofs will always hold a special place in my heart.

All current and former Southfacers are invited to keep in touch, network together and celebrate what Southface stands for through “Southface Employees and Alumni” groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Be the first to hear about Southface news and stay engaged with our community connected to the environmental movement. If you would like to be featured in our Alumni Feature Series, email We want to hear what you’re up to!


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