Lauren Fortin, recent graduate of the Master of Science in Sustainable Management and an energy and sustainability analyst for Kwik Trip, found her way to sustainability after volunteering for an environmental nonprofit.
Lauren, whose bachelor’s degree is in accounting, was a loan coordinator in the mortgage industry for three years. She didn’t find her job fulfilling and wanted to try something new.
“I could either go get my CPA and become an accountant, or I could go and work at another mortgage company. And I didn’t really like those two avenues,” she said. “But I had done a lot of volunteer work. I did one internship with an environmental nonprofit in Rhode Island. And I really, really loved that. Everyone around me was either a marine biologist or they were in environmental science or some sort of biology, environmental type of work. And I was just really inspired by everyone there. Everyone was so passionate about what they did.”
Lauren considered going back to school to study environmental science, but a lack of hard science training stopped her. When she began googling sustainability programs, she came across the University of Wisconsin Sustainable Management programs. She applied to the master’s degree through UW-Green Bay, enrolled, and finished in two and a half years, while working full time in mortgages.
While Lauren doesn’t have a background in science, her mortgage background helped her in the program and now in her job: “It gave me a strong foundation of being able to analyze data, which is a big part of any corporate job really. It gave me the skills of being able to work collaboratively with people. Although it didn’t give me direct knowledge, it did give me the skills that I am proud of. I have a really great eye for detail, I’d say.”
Lauren loved that her master’s degree program was exclusively online and could be completed at her own pace. She also loved the subject matter, which was very different from her accounting background. The program allows students to study topics like public policy and government’s role in sustainability, triple bottom line accounting, how to foster change management toward sustainability goals within an organization, and how to apply ecological principles of sustainability to organizational systems.
Her first course, MSMGT 700: Cultural and Historical Foundations for Sustainability, was eye-opening.
“I just didn’t realize how many different avenues and different ways that sustainability could be achieved through smart growth, through smart buildings, things like that. And as I’ve mentioned, I don’t really have a background prior to this in sustainability. That was just really interesting, mainly because I knew so little going into it.”
While in the program, Lauren was laid off from her job and decided to make a change.
“I just felt like going on an adventure,” she said. “I was taking the program through UW-Green Bay. I called them and asked if I could live on campus, even though I’m exclusively an online student. And they said sure.”
Originally from Rhode Island, she lived in Green Bay on campus for the last four months of her program. “It was great. It was the coldest winter of my life,” she says. “I love Green Bay. It has a special place in my heart now. I made a lot of friends. I learned a lot about Midwest culture, because it’s just very different from New England culture. But it was really fun.”
She moved back home to Rhode Island once she completed the program but soon found a job in La Crosse, Wisconsin, at Kwik Trip, a chain of convenience stores with locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.
In her role at Kwik Trip, Lauren works on energy rebates, sustainable business practices, and analyzing energy consumption at Kwik Trip stores and on the main campus. She’s been able to apply what she learned in the program, especially MSMGT 705: The Built Environment, where she learned about Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Kwik Trip puts ENERGY STAR appliances in its stores, so her background helped a ton. She also benefited from MSMGT 785: Sustainable Water Management.
“I don’t think I would know half the stuff that my boss talks about: Energy Star, just different energy efficiency practices, water reduction… if it weren’t for the program,” she said.
Looking ahead, Lauren wants to be at the forefront of change in her job. Unlike the mortgage industry, where she felt less of a direct connection to effecting change in people’s lives, Lauren knows that she has an opportunity in her current role as a sustainability and energy analyst to make a difference that directly impacts a greater number of people.
“I know that the climate crisis is real and it’s happening. I want to be a part of that solution in whichever way I can. And I feel like Kwik Trip is kind of my gateway to that. It’s such a huge company. We have over 800 stores. And any energy efficiency, any carbon reductions I can make in my role there I know will have a ripple reaction and just really make a difference to the condition of the world.”
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Lauren took the leap to make a career change, and encourages others to do the same if they’re unhappy with their current situation. She also offers prospective students several pieces of advice:
- Don’t doubt yourself. “I had literally no background in sustainability. I had no background in environmental science or anything of that nature. So I was very nervous. But you just have to do it. If it’s something that you’re really passionate about, you will do well. Your passion is the driver. I’d say if you have a lot of passion for sustainability, for the environment, for tackling climate change, then it is the right path for you. And if you don’t have experience in it prior, don’t let that deter you or scare you, because I was very scared. And I feel like it was the best decision ever.”
- Don’t take on more than you can handle. “It definitely is a time commitment. And it can be challenging, especially if time management doesn’t come naturally to you. I didn’t want to just ‘get by’ by the skin of my teeth. I really wanted to do well. So I knew I could not do more than one class at a time. My planner is my life. I mapped out every assignment, every reading assignment, every test, and every paper. Be proactive, take the time to plan. And if it’s important to you, you will find the time.”
- Don’t be afraid to buy books to read in person while learning online. Lauren’s transition from an in-person bachelor’s degree to online learning was smooth, but she didn’t love reading online. “I love having a physical book. You can get [textbooks] on Amazon. As long as I had that, I felt perfectly fine doing all my coursework online.”
“Something people say a lot to me is, ‘I can’t believe you did a career change. I could never do that. That’s so scary.’ But if you are unhappy in your situation and you want to change it, you just have to do it,” she says. “If you’re unhappy in your current career, a career change is 1,000% worth it. I would strongly encourage anyone to do that.”
Are you a career changer? Interested in learning more about the 100 percent online UW Sustainable Management Master’s Program? Take a look at the curriculum page or reach out to an enrollment adviser with any questions about the program. For more information, call 608-800-6762 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.