Q & A with Alumna Melissa Luna

Alumna Melissa Luna graduated from the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs in 2014 and is now a Social and Environmental Impact Officer at Playa Viva Sustainable Boutique Hotel in Mexico. We had a chance to catch up with Melissa and hear about her job, her time at SMEA, and advice she has for current SMEA students.

Can you give us a brief description of what you do for Playa Viva Sustainable Boutique Hotel?

Primarily I am responsible for implementing and managing social and environmental impact programs related to hotel operations and community development. I manage the hotel volunteer program (recruit, coordinate and oversee mostly international volunteers and their projects); I am also the liaison between Playa Viva and the broader sustainable community — I work to build relationships with relevant conservation, tourism and sustainability actors (both locally and internationally).

What do you like best about your job?

It’s been really interesting stepping outside the nonprofit world and working for a for-profit business. I love learning about the local context and living in a community vastly different to the one in which I grew up. I’ve always loved putting myself outside my comfort zone and exploring different cultures and ways of living, as I feel it breeds openness and leads to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. On a strictly professional level, I love being in a position where my job is to understand how Playa Viva can better serve its community. I’m of the mindset that you must understand how a community works and what its needs are first in order to achieve any long-term environmental/ecological success. And, that’s exactly what my job is at Playa Viva! Understanding community dynamics to ensure we are more successful.

How did SMEA help you prepare?

Although I feel SMEA tends to groom you to work more in the NGO/government/not-for-profit world, so much of what I do and the challenges that present themselves are analogous to the ones experienced in other sectors and ones we learned about in coursework at SMEA. SMEA helped me to understand the importance of the human dimension for achieving any long-term environmental gains, provided me with the common vocabulary and theories applied, and helped me harness the skills to address the various challenges presented.

If you had one piece of advice for current SMEA students, what would it be?

Get out there and get your hands dirty as soon as possible! You understand so much more once you’re actually out there. Take career risks early on, rather than later. There are so many cool projects and ways to involve yourself in conservation, policy and management all around the world. Use your networks to their fullest — really tap into the connections you made in grad school and other former graduates! There’s a big network out there to help you find something.


If you are a SMEA alum who would like to share what you’re doing, you can do so through our Alumni Update, we’d love to hear from you! You can also update your information via the UW Alumni Services site http://www.washington.edu/alumni/services/update/