George McCrory, Communications Specialist for the Office of Sustainability poses in the Old Capitol Mall on Clinton St. UISG voted on a bill to allocate $1,738 this year for a Renewable Energy Educational Development trip, each semester. (The Daily Iowan/Ben Smith)

Higher education, sustainability combine to offer new careers, majors


Students gathered Wednesday afternoon to learn more about careers in campus sustainability.

By Paige Schlichte

A new dual major at the University of Iowa aims to promote a career in sustainability, with a focus on preparing students for careers in developing green practices for college campuses.

In a presentation on Wednesday afternoon, the College of Education, the Urban and Regional Planning School, and the UI Office of Sustainability joined forces to present another option for those interested in sustainability: careers in campus sustainability.

The event was coordinated by Professor Charles Connerly of urban and regional planning. He said the event was inspired by the creation of a new joint master’s program between the Education College and Urban and Regional Planning School for those who want to pursue sustainability in a higher-education setting.

“A lot of undergrads want to go into work in sustainability, but they’re not quite sure where they will go,” Connerly said. “They see private industry or business as the only option, but another option is universities. Universities are laboratories for sustainability — they can do things the general public is slower in doing or implementing.”

Brittany Drummond, the sustainability coordinator at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, spoke at the event to give students a sense of how higher education and sustainability can combine in a tangible profession. Drummond obtained a master’s degree in urban and regional planning with a concentration in land use and environmental planning at the UI in 2011.

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Drummond said sustainability programs implemented at North Central College included recycling, compost, community gardens, electric vehicle-charging stations, and bike-share programs.

“North Central College is a four-year liberal-arts school with just under 3,000 students,” Drummond said. “Even though we’re a lot smaller school than Iowa, we have a lot of initiatives going on. I want people to take away that if you work at a college campus of any size, you’re going to be running into these sustainability issues.”

Sara Maples, the interim director at the UI Sustainability Office, described how sustainability is implemented at the UI, particularly through the office’s 2020 Vision. That includes seven sustainability targets the university plans to meet by the end of 2020, including decreasing waste, increasing renewable-energy consumption, and reducing fossil-fuel emissions produced by university-related transportation.

“I think a lot of students care about the work we’re doing in sustainability, and a lot of them seek that information out,” Maples said. “They’re looking at ‘Is this something I want to be doing when I graduate with my degree?’ In my job, when you see something about the environment on the news, it’s not ‘I hope someone fixes that.’ Instead, it’s ‘I’m helping to fix that.’”

Drummond agrees that college campuses and students are key in driving sustainability, and a career in campus sustainability is an opportune way to be a part of that.

“New concepts start on college campuses,” Drummond said. “We want to use our campus as a learning lab for sustainability so people in the community can learn about different sustainability initiatives when they come to campus and then adopt that into their lives and businesses. If you light a fire under the students, the rest of the college and the community catches on.”

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