Editor’s note: Angela is now the director of internal operations and marketing at American Risk Management, as well as president of the Society of Environmental Insurance Professionals.
Angela Dybdahl Oroian, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Sustainable Management program, says her degree helped her reach a peak position in environmental insurance. Here are ten things I learned about the graduate, her career, and how she’s using her sustainability master’s degree.
1. Angela started out in the mailroom. Now, she’s a top environmental insurance broker.
Last fall, Angela celebrated her tenth anniversary at American Risk Management, an environmental insurance and risk management company in Middleton, Wisconsin.
“I started in the mailroom, filing, scanning, and mailing Christmas cards,” Angela says. Over the next decade, she steadily moved up.
In her current position as an environmental insurance broker and director of the Society of Environmental Insurance Professionals (SEIP), she provides insurance solutions for large corporations—coal plants, oil refineries, mining operations, Superfund sites—to remediate environmental risks. Angela spends most of her days communicating with clients, banks, state agencies, and lawyers and dealing with the aftermath of accidents, like large spills.
As a broker, she has reached the top, and for that she credits her extensive experience and education in sustainability.
2. She almost went to law school and Harvard, but chose UW Sustainable Management instead.
Angela earned an undergraduate degree from UW-Madison and seriously considered pursuing law; she scored a 165 on the LSAT and was accepted into Marquette Law School.
“At the time, I worked with a lot of attorneys, and all of them advised me not to go into law. They knew it wasn’t the best fit for my career.”
Through her professors at Madison, she learned of the Master of Science in Sustainable Management, a fully online graduate program offered through a partnership of several UW campuses and UW Extended Campus.
She researched other sustainability master’s programs—including one at Harvard—but nothing beat UW Sustainable Management’s affordability and flexibility.
3. Online courses were a perfect fit.
“I was hesitant at first because I really liked the classroom atmosphere,” Angela says. “But with a full-time job, an on-campus program would have been impossible.”
Online learning turned out to be perfect for her. She created a school schedule that fit her life, and when she traveled for work, “it was great to be able to complete assignments ahead of time or on the road—basically, wherever and whenever was most convenient for me.”
Angela says being an online graduate student is vastly different than being an undergraduate. “The professors know that when you request to turn in assignments early, you’re not going to Cancun for spring break,” she chuckles. “They treat you like an adult. There’s more trust.”
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4. Leadership and corporate social responsibility were crucial subjects.
The top two most useful courses?
- MSMGT 770: Leading Sustainable Organizations: “In this course, I cataloged what other companies were doing in terms of sustainability. It was an eye-opening course and has already helped me a lot professionally.”
- MSMGT 780: Corporate Social Responsibility: “This topic is very important, especially for how I plan to influence the insurance industry.”
5. Angela finished her master’s in a year and a half.
In August 2015, Angela graduated with her master’s degree in Sustainable Management—only a year and a half since she began the program.
Not that working full-time and earning a sustainability master’s degree was easy. “My life was: work all day, eat dinner, study all night, repeat. Now that I’m out of school, I wonder how I did it. But I think staying organized and managing your time well is key to accomplishing anything.”
She kept a strict professional, academic, and personal schedule while in the UW Sustainable Management program, but she did manage to find some free time for her hobbies: paddle boarding, hiking, and biking; concerts in downtown Madison; and spending time with her husband, dog, and family.
6. She is a polyglot.
“When I was 18, I lived in Sweden for a year as an exchange student.” She counts living abroad as one of the most gratifying experiences of her life.
She traveled around the country as a youth ambassador and learned Swedish by taking courses and watching Sesame Street. After just three months, she was fluent and could even communicate easily in other Scandinavian languages of nearby Denmark and Norway. Add that to the French she studied in high school, and that makes her a five-language polyglot.
7. She celebrated graduation in Chile.
Last summer, Angela completed the Chile Travel Course, an 18-day educational adventure in South America. She traveled with fellow master’s students and professor John Katers, and “technically graduated in Santiago,” Angela says.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to immerse myself in the culture and learn how a country with many natural disasters and extreme poverty is handling sustainability. And I was able to hike Easter Island and downhill ski in the Andes!”
8. She actually uses her sustainability master’s degree at work.
In fact, the subjects she studied in the program are directly related.
“It’s strange,” she says. “Global warming, sustaining resources, and loss prevention are discussed all the time in environmental insurance, yet there’s a huge disconnect on what we’re actually doing about it. For example, whenever there’s an environmental calamity, such as the BP oil spill, the perpetrators are either self-insured or severely underinsured. Why is that okay?”
This is one of many things that she’d like to change within the environmental insurance industry—and that requires special knowledge of sustainability. Through the Sustainable Management master’s curriculum, she learned to think more critically about sustainable business, the economy, wider communities—and how they are interrelated.
“The piece of paper saying ‘Master of Science’ looks good, but the knowledge I gained gives me more credibility. Now, at work, I bring more to the table when discussing sustainability efforts within the environmental insurance industry.”
9. After graduation, Angela received a major promotion.
“My master’s degree also gave me more opportunities to grow,” she says. “I took on a new role as director of SEIP, a promotion I got because of my professional experience, graduate degree, and deep understanding of sustainability.”
Specifically, Angela will head the consulting sector within SEIP, a nonprofit she helped develop. “Consulting is great because it allows me some flexibility. And I love to travel, so it’s perfect.”
10. She spoke at the National Sierra Club Colloquium as an environmental expert.
Last fall, the Sierra Club, the environmental organization founded by John Muir, asked Angela to give a presentation on environmental insurance and the implications of global climate change. “That’s when I knew the degree had helped solidify my credibility,” she says of the honor.
At the end of our conversation, she shares a favorite quote: “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”
Gandhi said this.
“I live by his words, both professionally and personally. As Sustainable Management students, we are drawn to the program because we want to make an impact in some way. That’s what I intend to do now.”
We wish her luck. But she doesn’t need it—Angela is at the top of her game, and she’s looking forward to an even brighter career on the horizon.