Published: Dec. 15, 2020 By

Graduation caps thrown in the air

As the year 2020 comes to an end, a time of reflection and gratitude approaches. A graduate experience unlike anything we could have ever expected is coming to an end for MENV’s fourth cohort. We’ve gained invaluable experiences, networks, knowledge and skills but also friendships and memories we will cherish forever.

If there is one word for this graduating class, it’s resilient. A word we’ve heard countless times throughout our classes, but one that accurately describes the resounding strength it has taken each of us to get to where we are today. It is often necessary at times like these to reflect upon our experiences, and while graduate school is difficult enough in the best of times, this year has been anything but. With a global pandemic, a historic social justice movement, and a divisive election season, we cannot forget to celebrate how far we have come, and how far we will continue to go.

This week, I interviewed three students in MENV’s fourth cohort, each of whom is on a different path to achieve their goals. Whether that path is finding a full-time job, an internship, or extending their time in the MENV program, each one has found personal success and is looking to their bright future.

Nate Goeckner, Urban Resilience and Sustainability

What will you be working on post-graduation?

I will be working for the Boulder Watershed Collective, managing their forest program and working to increase the implementation, collaboration, and connectivity of wildfire mitigation projects at the watershed level. Through the Watershed Collective, I will also be leading outreach and project planning for a non-profit wildfire mitigation program in Coal Creek Canyon, called Saws and Slaws.

How did MENV help you prepare for this work?

All of the collaborative work we did at MENV was very helpful when moving into my new position, where multiple stakeholders are involved. The scenarios our professors gave us on projects also highlighted the outreach and research needed for work with multiple partners. I found that some of the fundamental topics we covered during the program will be things I continue to include in my career moving forward. 

What will you miss most about MENV?

I will really miss being able to talk to and see all of the smart folks who are very passionate about the environment. I will miss the camaraderie, and I really wish our cohort could have had a couple more happy hours before the pandemic hit. Also, I will really miss the new Spruce Cafe in the CU Aerospace building...and the SEEC burritos.


Andy Bingle, Renewable and Sustainable Energy

What will you be working on post-graduation?

Post graduation I will be working as the Educational Director at the Colorado Agrivoltaic Learning Center (CALC), a nonprofit project I co-founded with Jack's Solar Garden's (JSG) co-owner Byron Kominek. CALC is a nonprofit which connects community members and regional K-12 students with clean energy, local food and sustainable land use practices through educational experiences at JSG, the largest agrivoltaic solar array of its kind in the nation. As Educational Director I will develop curriculum, manage volunteers, and build relationships with local teachers to encourage field trip visits to JSG. Since CALC is a new nonprofit, I will also wear other hats which include helping with development, marketing, and other nonprofit administrative duties.

How did MENV help you prepare for this work?

First off, MENV helped me with my networking skills. MENV was actually the reason I was involved with JSG and created CALC in the first place. Byron was looking for a capstone team, but there was not enough student interest for it to become a capstone project. Because of my interest in both food production and energy, I decided to work with him outside of MENV over the summer. While working with Byron I practiced my networking skills and gained his trust as we created CALC. 

Through my capstone project, I also learned important project management skills of which I applied in the creation of CALC and will use in my role as the Educational Director. Creating a non-profit took strategic planning and time management. The capstone project helped me learn how to scope a large project and execute on small goals to reach a larger one. Creating a nonprofit sounded like a big job, but by meeting incremental goals we were able to develop one in six months.

Finally, MENV helped me develop the necessary technical knowledge needed for the Educational Director role. In my position as Educational Director I will field many questions regarding complex energy system operations, and MENV has provided me with the background to confidently be a resource for those questions.

What will you miss most about MENV?

I will miss the networking superpower of being a graduate student. MENV did a great job of emphasizing the importance of expanding your network. The MENV program has a very good reputation in Colorado's front range and its reputation is expanding to other parts of the nation, and even other parts of the globe. Using the MENV graduate student card I was able to work with a wide range of stakeholders in the energy space including sustainability officers of multinational organizations, the senate majority leader of Colorado, ranchers in Moffat County, and owners of small breweries. I am a people person and loved to lean into the graduate networking superpower when possible. I will miss this.


Dani McLean, Urban Resilience and Sustainability

What will you be working on next semester?

I will be working with Tim Broderick in Boulder County's Office of Sustainability, Climate Action, and Resilience (OSCAR) as their Circular Economy Fellow for six months. I will be assisting them in developing both packaging and restaurant food waste campaigns that were recently funded by the EPA and USDA. Both campaigns will entail strategic communications work and community engagement. For the EPA grant, I will help the county create pilot projects to engage in packaging redesign, whereas the USDA grant is focused on reducing food waste from local restaurants and support county-wide composting. I will also be providing project management assistance for the county's greenhouse gas inventory and urban metabolism study, a collaborative project with the City of Denver.

How did MENV help you prepare for this work?

MENV helped prepare me for this work primarily through the capstone project. I actually met Tim early on in the capstone process, when we were first determining which projects we wanted to pursue. While I ended up conducting a project with Boundless Landscapes, I never lost touch with Tim; after reconnecting with him and OSCAR Director Susie Strife in the fall, I was offered this Fellowship. Additionally, I was grateful to have taken on the role of project manager for our capstone project. Doing so gave me the essential project management skills I needed to land this Fellowship in the first place!

What’s something you’re hoping to get out of your last semester and this position to prepare you for a job?

I am using my last semester as an opportunity to cement my knowledge of policy (particularly climate policy) as an Urban Resilience & Sustainability student. This deeper dive into policy, paired with the experience in both County government and project management I will gain thanks to the Fellowship, will set me up nicely for applying to local government positions engaged in climate action upon graduation.

Finally, with my own time coming to an end with MENV, I can’t help but be immensely grateful for my experience and am beyond proud of all of my peers. The one thing that I learned early on within our program is that while we may all be very different people with diverse backgrounds, we all came to this program with the same goal: to make the world a better place. While we may not have had the exact graduate experience we were expecting, I believe we are actively fulfilling that goal. I wish everyone the best of luck in navigating the fast-changing world that we live in and can’t wait to see the incredible impacts everyone will make.

Happy graduation everyone, we did it!