On Wednesday, November 1, 2023 the Career Connections Center hosted a virtual panel event on careers related to sustainability. We partnered with three UF alumni working in different industries. The link to the panel recording is posted below, along with a summary of the event:
Career Coach Gabby moderated a panel of UF Alumni: Pierce, Jena, and Ashley. The panelists discussed the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in sustainability work, They also shared their experiences and skills in sustainability, advised on gaining knowledge through internships and on-the-job learning, and answered student questions.
Gabby introduced herself as a Career Pathways Coach in the Career Connections Center and shared how she works with students and employers in specific industry areas. Following Gabby’s introduction, the meeting moved to introductions from the panelists, starting with Ashley, who shared her background in sustainability and her current role as a sustainability manager for the city of Orlando. After Ashley’s introduction, Jena introduced herself as Jena Lococo and shared her educational background and current location.
Jena, currently the Chief of Staff at Nova Hydrogen, spoke about her role in enabling the company’s commercial development and finance functions to succeed. Pierre Schwab, Sustainability Manager at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., shared his career journey, which started with a degree in sustainability studies and progressed through various sustainability-focused roles in local government, consulting, and the private sector. Jena also discussed her career path, which included oil and gas work and policy advocacy before returning to a private sector role at Nova Hydrogen. Ashley, who has worked in higher education, nonprofit, and government sectors, spoke about her journey from an English Literature Major to a sustainability-focused career.
Sustainability Career Paths: Skills, Education, and Collaboration
Ashley, Jena, and Pierce discussed the valuable skills and experiences that have helped them in their careers in sustainability. Ashley emphasized the importance of both humanities and STEM education, as well as the development of analytical and organizational skills. She also recommended joining a board of directors for a local nonprofit and seeking out mentors. Jena highlighted the usefulness of her engineering degree in problem-solving and communication, and she mentioned pursuing professional accreditations and participating in fellowships to further her career. Pierce underscored the benefits of a sustainability studies major in providing a broad understanding of sustainability and the opportunity to focus on specific areas of interest. He also recommended taking advantage of campus resources for internships and fellowships, and building a network through programs like AmeriCorps. The panelists also emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in sustainability work.
Sustainability: Collaboration, Inclusivity, and Patience
Jena emphasized the importance of working with people from different fields to find the best solutions. Ashley stressed the need for patience and pragmatism when dealing with different stakeholders and the importance of inclusivity, especially involving residents and those with lived experience in sustainability initiatives. Gabby asked Pierce to share a significant project or initiative related to sustainability. Pierce learned the importance of building on-ground support and starting the conversation with communities before being prescriptive with what’s recommended. The initiative that finally got through was the city’s first protected Bike lane, which was very exciting and paved the way for more inclusive bike and ped infrastructure.
Nonprofit Board Involvement & Career Paths in Science Communication
One attendee asked about ways to join a nonprofit board of directors or get more involved with organizations. Ashley advised researching organizations, looking for board applications, and reaching out to inquire about board openings. She also suggested starting as a volunteer and showing commitment over time. Gabby then mentioned a second question regarding career paths in science communication and environmental conservation, specifically if one could avoid the policy/lawmaking route and instead focus on public communication and education. Several panelists including Pierce and Jena recommended looking into state and federal agencies, environmental nonprofits, and even larger companies with environmental commitments for internships and job opportunities. Ashley emphasized the importance of considering a wide range of jobs and not limiting oneself to policy and lawmaking.
Sustainability Evolution: Trends, Competitiveness, and Demand
Gabby, Jena, and Pierce discussed the evolution of the field of sustainability in the next 5 to 10 years. Jena envisioned a trend where every job would have a component of sustainability, with a focus on environmental responsibility and efficiency. She also highlighted the competitiveness of the field and advised on finding unique niches and gaining diverse experiences. Pierce emphasized the increasing importance of sustainability reporting and accounting, noting the need for verifiable actions and a decrease in greenwashing. Both agreed on the growing demand for sustainability professionals in various industries.
Career Paths and Remote Work Adaptation
In the meeting, Gabby emphasized that a major doesn’t define a career path, and that different experiences and skills are more significant. The panelists shared their perspectives on the adaptation of fields to remote work after the pandemic, with Jena noting that it depends on the industry and company culture. She also highlighted the importance of in-person collaboration, especially in the early stages of a career. Ashley advised graduates to consider various opportunities and not solely focus on master’s degrees for career advancement. Instead, she suggested gaining more knowledge through internships and on-the-job learning. The panelists agreed that networking and finding roles in sustainability can be done in any industry. Jena recommended using LinkedIn for networking and keeping up with sustainability news. Ashley shared job boards and resources in the chat for attendees to explore. The panelists closed the meeting by encouraging attendees to reach out to them on LinkedIn.