CSB/SJU Environmental Studies Graduates
Ashley Ver Burg '10
I began my studies as a biochemistry major, like many students convinced I wanted to go to medical school--organic chemistry successfully weeded me out second semester of sophomore year. I realized I wanted my undergraduate degree to take a broader view, and the interdisciplinary nature of the environmental studies major was appealing, so I picked it. You could also call my decision a subconscious uprising. I have always held a passion for addressing environmental issues, but I was particularly surprised this year when I found a report I wrote as a child on why, "Enhancing transit is the answer to stopping sprawl and the environmental problems sprawl creates" --evidently the prophesy had been written for my current career.
Upon graduation I worked as a Transitway Planning Intern to Metro Transit--an invaluable experience, which afforded me an insider look into how the Twin Cities metropolitian region manages and plans for its public transportation system. I then moved to the south of France to teach English for an academic year which increasing my French fluency and exploring Europe (by transit).
Currently I am a Transportation Planning Analyst (and our office's co-Vice President of Fun). I work for Kimley-Horn and Associates, which is a national civil engineering and design firm. We are comprised of consultants who are engineers, landscape architects, environmental scientists, and planners. Our practice areas vary from transportation to land development to aviation to traffic operations.
Planning is a broad field, and consulting adds more diversity to the equation. As such, a typical day for me varies week-to-week, month-to-month. What is consistent is the highly analytical nature of my work--a lot of time researching, writing, analyzing data in Access and Excel, creating maps in ArcGIS, preparing presentation materials for public outreach, problem solving on teams, and attending meetings. It is fast-paced and full of critical thinking. I work on projects that relate to all modes of transportation including light rail transit, bus rapid transit, streetcar, commuter rail, freight rail, managed lanes, and highways. As an office VP of Fun, I plan cool events to lighten the office atmosphere, like next month's burrito eating contest for charity.
My advice to current students would be to take ArcGIS with Jean Lavigne--even a semester will equip you with the basics necessary to incorporate this skill into your career. Focus on improving your writing and analysis skills. These will continue to develop throughout your life, but building a strong base in college is key. When job searching, you will be thankful for these tangible skills to compliment your liberal arts degree.
Nick Hanson '10
I was not originally planning on becoming an environmental studies major; I first thought I was going to be a history major, but I always loved being outdoors. I'm a big camper and backpacker, and I was really involved with planning earth day celebrations at my high school, so environmental issues always lit a fire in me. I remember I spoke with Dr. Derek Larson for about an hour on different environmental issues and I thought that, "this is definitely the place for me."
I thought being able dissect and analyzes into different areas was the most important aspect of my environmental studies coursework. I remember in my freshman seminar class we talked about Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma." I really never thought of my food as having different economic, environmental, and social impacts, so this forced me to look deeper into issues.
Besides my regular coursework, I was involved in a lot of other experiences. However, two in particular stood out for me. The most important was my study abroad trip to South Africa. I loved seeing a new part of the world, especially one that you don't hear about every day on the news. It was challenging, exciting,frustrating, moving, and rewarding to be thrown into a new culture and finding your own way through it all. Secondly, I loved volunteering for the arboretum. Maple Syruping was especially a lot of fun. If you get a chance, help out. It's pretty sweet.
Right now, I am volunteering with the Maryland Conservation Corps. This is an Americorps program in which I am stationed at a state park in Maryland. More specifically, I am at Patapsco Valley State Park in Ellicott City, Maryland. I do a lot of trail work, conservation work, education programs, and a variety of other things. I particularly love leading volunteers and building trails. It's difficult and rewarding work. After I'm done with this, I am thinking about going to graduate school for Park and Recreation Management.
John Smith '09
The CSB/SJU Environmental Studies program enriched my natural talents and curiosity to succeed at the intersection of education and the environment. I have long wondered why humans abuse nature and how to change that trend in people of all ages. During my time at CSB/SJU, doing sustainability with St. Paul Public Schools and teaching at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center have all been manifestations of that curiosity. Most recently, at the Will Steger Foundation (WSF), I split my time between supporting classroom teachers who use our climate literacy curriculum and developing new classroom resources related to energy. WSF educates, inspires and empowers people of all ages to make solutions to climate change--and my liberal arts education from CSB/SJU compliments this multifaceted approach.
While many classes I took at CSB/SJU help me every day in the workplace, none more than Environmental and Natural Resource Economics with Ernie Diedrich and Environmental Ethics with Chuck Wright. These two classes took the conversations I was having in other classes and dug deep into the heart of the discord between humans and nature. Environmental Studies is the quintessential libral arts degree: touching all regions of the globe and preparing students for conversation and decision-making within any circumstance. Be that as it may, any chance to refine a specific talent is worth doing, and my natural talents lie in the humanities (hence economics and ethics).
Beyond classes, my extracurricular action with student clubs and organizations served as an arena to test my budding skills as a change-maker by engaging in campaigns, hosting events, joining coalitions and raising funds among other things. My schooling would not be complete without these opportunities which gave me highly-valuable skills for any job in the not-for-profit and private sectors.
In fact, in all my past employment I have been able to draw upon conversations, projects and assignments I had to complete as part of the Environmental Studies program or as part of my own extracurricular involvement leading campus organizations to make CSB/SJU more sustainable.
Sophia Walsh '08
When I started my first year of college, I was unsure of what direction I wanted to go. My symposium professor suggested that I take a class in Environmental Studies and from then on I was hooked. Looking back on my coursework, there are a few classes that have been very important in getting me to where I am today with my career. The course on Geographic Information Systems (GIS), along with the experience of being a GIS teacher's assistant, has been vital to my career path. The Environmental Science and Ecology courses have also been very important, as knowing how to do lab and fieldwork are essential in Environmental work. In addition to these particular courses, learning good communication skills has been very important, as in both of my careers after college I have had to work with customers and residents on a daily basis. I did my study abroad as an internship in Albany Australia with Southwest Natural Resource Management. I assisted with research in archeology and endangered species. Throughout the internship, I used GIS, lab and communication skills while learning how to work in an office setting which can be difficult to simulate by just taking college courses.
After graduation I worked in St. Cloud, MN at GeoComm, an Emergency Management Mapping company, as a GIS Specialist and utilized my skills in GIS on a daily basis. I traveled around the country doing fieldwork and training on GIS software and GPS devices. Currently, I am working for the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health as an Environmental Health Specialist in Mason City, IA. My main priority at the department of health is conducting a five year study looking into why there is arsenic in the ground water in Cerro Gordo County. In addition to this, I do some GIS work for the Health Department.
Katy Pfannenstein '06
I chose to pursue environmental studies because I've always been involved in the outdoors and thought it would be great to learn even more, so that I could educate others in hopes of creating a bond between people and the earth to really enjoy what's out there and take care of it. As far as coursework goes, the many hands on activities and labs that we did were extremely important and very relevant! The sustainability workshop was so rad too!!! My experiences while studying abroad in South Africa were also very important!! Exploring a different country, and the ecosystems there, from coastal to mountains to savanna, was fascinating! Also, with visiting a third world country, it was valuable to see how environmental and social justice issues go hand in hand.
After graduation, I worked for Outward Bound for 5 years, teaching people how to backpack, climb, and enjoy the beauty of the mountains, all the while teaching them to look inward and become a better person. I also worked for the Academy at SOAR, where I taught high schoolers with Learning Differences by taking them out on expeditions in the wilderness to give them confidence through climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, surfing, etc. These experiences allow these students to be more successful in life and in school.
Today I am coordinating all the Northwest Programs for the American Alpine Institute. Here, I get to take a break from being in the backcountry, while still getting people out in the mountains, learning essential skills so they can go climb on their own and be stewards of the land while recreating and enjoying the beauty it has to offer.
Sean Flannery '01
I graduated from CSB/SJU in 2001, when Environmental Studies was only available as a minor (now it is available as major). I majored in Natural Science with a minor in Environmental Studies, but my environmental coursework was really the focus of my academic interest. I was attracted to the environmental sector because I saw a lot of interesting work opportunities dealing with the broad array of environmental issues. I believe this even more strongly now, 10 years into my professional career.
The most important aspects of my coursework were not specific classes, but the multi-dimensional structure to my overall mix of classes. I took classes in math, biology, ecology, philosophy, social science, political science, and economics. This breadth of coursework provided a great foundation for evaluating environmental issues, which are never neatly categorized into one area of study. The Environmental Studies curriculum draws on the best attributes of a strong liberal arts education: multi-disciplinary study, critical thinking that can be applied to understanding new problems, and communication skills that are vital to effectively addressing these issues in the real world.
After graduation, I took on an internship at a Watershed District supporting water quality programs in the Twin Cities. From there I got an entry-level job as an environmental scientist at an environmental consulting company. While working as an environmental consultant I went to graduate school part-time at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. I obtained a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning which has helped further my professional interests in environmental issues, particularly sustainable development and renewable energy. I found my undergraduate environmental studies coursework from CSB/SJU gave me a great platform to be successful at the Humphrey Institute.
I currently work for a wind energy and solar energy project developer, permitting utility-scale energy projects around the country. I work with local, state, and federal environmental laws and agencies to develop, construct, and operate renewable energy projects. When I was in college in the 90s the internet and tech boom was in full stride and it seemed like all the best job opportunities were in Information Technology, but now many people argue the growth industries over the next 10 or 20 years are going to be in the environmental sector, dealing with issues of energy, sustainability and 'clean technology.' The CSB/SJU Environmental Studies Department provides a great foundation of education and experience to pursue these issues.