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How I Found Environmental Sustainability—and Why I Started the Master’s Degree Program

UW Online Collaboratives October 19, 2016
A photo of Susan Suchy wearing a cap and gown while standing in front of a UW-Parkside sign.

By Susan Suchy

Susan here. I’m a graduate with a University of Wisconsin Sustainable Management bachelor’s degree and a current student in the master’s program. Why did I choose an environmental sustainability degree? What are the degree programs like?

Keep reading to find out.

First Foray in Environmental Sustainability

For more than 20 years, I worked in just about every customer service position imaginable in retail stores, convenience stores, manufacturing companies, and call centers. I felt like I was going nowhere; I couldn’t advance in companies without a bachelor’s degree.

Before I decided to earn a degree, I was into a TV show called Living with Ed with Ed Begley Jr. He had a house with rain barrels, so I investigated rain barrels for my own home and installed them. Through my research, I discovered rain gardens and attended a workshop hosted by the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network (Root-Pike WIN).

I got my hands in the dirt, dug up my yard, and installed a rain garden. A year later, I was asked to join the Root-Pike WIN Rain Garden Committee. I attended monthly meetings and brainstormed ways to promote rain gardens in the community.

I realized, this is what I love doing.

I started to consider going back to school for a green degree. How could I use such a degree? I didn’t know. So I searched the web and found the UW Sustainable Management bachelor’s degree.

Untethered from Campus

I was thrilled when I saw the UW Sustainable Management program was online—and that it was offered through my local campus, UW-Parkside. Being an older adult, I felt intimidated by campus life and taking classes with younger people.

Plus, my husband and I were busy with social events, gardening, and travel, and I hoped to soon have a full-time job. I knew I couldn’t be tied to a classroom. I needed to take courses from the road, on my lunch hour, at midnight—whenever and wherever.

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Passion Found

I started Sustainable Management classes in August 2012 and soon after, picked up a job. From then on, I went to school full-time and worked full-time almost every semester—even in the summer.

Through the program, I realized that I’m much more capable of mastering complex subjects than I thought. Some of the sustainability courses, like systems thinking and ecology, sparked a huge passion in me. I also enjoyed the two classes in economics—a subject that I never expected to understand or excel in.

The online environment came easily to me. I was still able to foster relationships with classmates and faculty through online discussion boards. I kept running into the same students in my classes, and by the end of the program, I had made friends that I know I’ll have for a lifetime.

Capstone with the City of Kenosha

During my final semester, I completed the capstone course, a semester-long project at a real organization. I connected with Kenosha Water Utility, which needed someone to create a formal safety program.

For my capstone project, I developed the safety program from the ground up. I had a few on-site meetings, but most days, I worked independently from home. I researched and wrote when I wanted to—and the project came together beautifully. They are in the process of implementing a version of my safety program now!

Walking Across the Stage—and the Next Phase

I am proud to be a college graduate. I went to the UW-Parkside graduation ceremony in May, and it was amazing. I worked hard, and to me, it was important to put on the cap and gown, take photos, and celebrate.

While I was finishing my bachelor’s degree, the Sustainable Management master’s program was developed—and I was very excited. I thought, “I’m already used to going to school. And I don’t like relaxing, so here we go again.” I started master’s courses in September—just two to get my feet wet. Right now, I’m researching what kinds of jobs are available in sustainable community development, because that’s my passion. I’m also volunteering for local organizations while keeping up with my studies.

At the graduation ceremony, only a few master’s students graduated—and one of them was from the Sustainable Management program. It’s strange and wonderful to think that could be me in a few short years!

Interested in an environmental sustainability bachelor’s or master’s degree? Start here. If you have questions about the program or want help applying, an adviser would love to help! Contact an enrollment adviser at 608-800-6762 or

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Programs: Sustainable Management