In the fourth installment of our “Humans of MENV” article series, we feature stories from multiple students that touch on their reasons for coming to MENV, favorite classes from the first semester and how their experiences thus far have impacted potential plans post graduation.
Caroline Dickey, Renewable & Sustainable Energy
"I studied geology and environmental studies in undergrad but the program was more focused on conservation and the environmental side was not very technical. While I was studying abroad with an environmental program in Germany, I took an energy technology class and an urban planning class that were really focused on sustainability and I absolutely loved them. Back at school, my coursework was more focused on geology, so after graduating I got a job as a geologist with an environmental consulting firm. It was great because it kept me in the environmental realm, but my mind was focused on climate change, sustainability, and how to increase our use of renewables. I knew I wanted more technical skills and networking opportunities so I made the decision to go back to school. I ended up choosing MENV over other programs because during admitted students day, the faculty were really involved and clearly invested in their students.
My favorite class has been Energy Systems and Technology with Josh Radoff. I like it because it’s more technical and applicable to the industry, since Josh has worked in it for over ten years. We’ve learned all about energy systems, oil and gas, emissions calculations, solar and wind, niche technologies like biogas and tidal energy, electric vehicles, batteries, and the grid. The most influential thing that I’ve learned is the fact that wind and solar are as cheap or cheaper than other technologies, including natural gas. It makes me feel hopeful about climate change because it makes you wonder why any utility company would invest in something more expensive.
What I really want to do is net zero energy buildings, but I am still figuring out what this looks like including whether it’s new buildings or retrofitting and incorporating renewables into existing buildings. The fact that the costs for renewables is so low gets me more excited about being able to get into that industry. Another influential thing I’ve learned is that cities are starting to incorporate electrification of buildings into their codes, so that makes going into building electrification and retrofitting a little easier."
Adam Hall, Urban Resilience & Sustainability
"I was considering a Masters of Urban Planning, because I’ve always been interested in cities and urban design. But at the same time, I wanted to focus on climate change issues, so when I found the URS specialization at MENV it was the perfect mash between sustainability and cities. I was also really attracted to the fact that MENV prioritizes equity along with environmental issues. I’m happy that the coursework and everyone I’ve talked to in the program prioritizes social justice along with environmentalism because I don’t think you can separate those two things.
I have two favorite classes. The first is One Water and the other is a class in the design school called Urban Design and the Livable City, which are similar in that they both focus on solutions to improve the quality of neighborhoods or streets. These solutions have co-benefits, which I think is really cool; if you plant more street trees or rain gardens, it improves aesthetics, environmental quality, economic opportunities and social quality, like the opportunities for social connection. The fact that these development solutions have so many benefits makes it a no brainer that we should be implementing them.
In One Water we focus a lot on stakeholders. If you want to propose a project, there might be a number of benefits, but it’s important to focus on the ones that are important to that stakeholder. In Urban Design, we’re really focusing on the design qualities themselves and how those qualities affect people and communities. They crossover a lot in that we’re discussing the exact same design solutions, just from different angles of either human well being or environmental and economic benefits.
Entering MENV, I knew I wanted to work with open space and green infrastructure as a climate change resilience or mitigation tool to improve social equity in neighborhoods that have been historically marginalized. I want to be someone who is working directly on projects that are incorporating green infrastructure into neighborhoods that don’t have it. That’s been reinforced through every class I've taken and I have a pretty clear picture of the kind of work I want to do. What I don’t really know is exactly how I want to do it, what sector I want to work in or what I want my role to be. I think that’s something I’ll continue to flesh out as I talk to more people."
Helena Janulis, Sustainability in the Outdoor Industry
"I’ve been very marine oriented my whole life — I started SCUBA diving when I was a kid and have always had a deep love for the underwater world and its many inhabitants. With this, everything I did in high school and undergrad was ocean related. I did coral restoration, shark research and was a divemaster in Hawaiʻi, among other things. Halfway through my undergraduate career, I took a gap year and I did a ton of trekking; and it was during that time that my love for the outdoor industry really grew. I started thinking about how I can have a larger impact and align my career with my values and interests. When I was thinking about masters programs, I realized that business is a powerful and promising sector for creating large-scale environmental and social change. I’ve never seen myself as a business person, but when I found this program and the SOI specialization, I saw an opportunity to combine my love for the outdoors with my desire to help create meaningful change.
My favorite class has been Community Economic Development and the Outdoor Recreation Economy, which is taught by Natalie Ooi. Natalie is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about this topic, which makes her class engaging, fun and valuable for anyone who wants to have a career in the outdoor industry. I had not been exposed to any of our course content prior to joining MENV, so it’s all exciting for me — but I would say the most influential thing I’ve learned is the power of the outdoor industry to diversify economies and build community resilience. This is especially true for communities in rural areas that face boom and bust cycles due to a resource extractive economy — i.e. dependence on coal, oil and natural gas. With the transition to clean energy, many of these communities can increase local economic resilience by leveraging the power of the outdoor industry and their natural assets. Importantly, growing the outdoor economy increases the quality of life for residents because of the mental, physical and spiritual benefits that come with outdoor recreation.
Although it hasn’t directly impacted my thoughts on what sector I would like to work in, it has impacted my thoughts on the specific role I want to play within the business sector. I am still figuring out what type of position I want, but I’ve learned that community engagement is a huge part of running a successful business and creating large-scale, meaningful change. With this, Natalie’s class has definitely influenced how I would approach a position in business and navigate various priorities and intersections within the industry. I think it’s really important for businesses to collaborate with and contribute to the surrounding communities they reside in — so who knows, maybe I will end up in a community outreach and partnership position!
Zack Malley, Sustainable Food Systems
"I worked in technology for 10 years doing project management and business analysis, but I’ve always had an interest in sustainability. I was doing really well at my job, so I thought “why don’t I try to marry the two?”. I started by taking an online class to see if it was something I really wanted to pursue, and then when I was looking for programs, MENV kept coming up. I thought the Capstone Project was a really amazing opportunity where I could take my years of project management, study as much as I could about sustainability, and come out of the program with some experience in the industry.
I’ve really enjoyed all my classes, but I particularly loved what I learned from the Zoom chat during Augmester. I came from a different industry where I was seen as the "young person" interested in sustainability, and then during our first class called The Scientific Basis of Environmental Change, the chat was filled with other students talking about what they’ve been doing, recommendations of books, movies, articles, and conferences. I found it really inspirational. Two suggestions that came from the chat were ‘Merchants of Doubt’ and ‘Kiss the Ground’, and seeing these two movies made it very clear how dire the climate crisis is and also how possible it is to solve it. I got to learn so much about things I wasn’t aware of, which was very transformational and shifted my perspective on the world. I’ve also been very influenced by systems thinking ideas. Previously, there were concepts I knew about, but didn't have words for. This has been the most influential change for me - I now have words for ideas I have and can translate and explain them better, which is really helpful.
I started off thinking I wanted to move from corporate culture into government and policy after graduation. I’m still interested in supporting those ideas, but I now see that my skills and experiences are needed in other spaces. Our professor, Damian, made the point that it’s really important to build things that people can see and experience in order to build true buy-in, which I agree with. I want to help create opportunities for people to figure out which parts of regenerative agriculture and permaculture practices are best for them and build frameworks so they can learn how to do it themselves. I don’t have all the answers, but I want to be a part of the solution, whatever that is."