David Schneider was ten years into a community development career when he chose a University of Wisconsin Sustainable Management degree as a complement to his experience.
Today, David’s resume looks very different: it lists a master’s degree and internships with two leading sustainable development organizations. What is the 2016 graduate aiming for next? Two words: United Nations.
An Aspiring Rock Star
“When I was a child, I wanted to be a rock star,” David says. As he grew up, reality sunk in, but he never lost his ability to think big.
David studied human development on campus at UW-Green Bay, and after graduating, spent the next ten years working with nonprofits and running several human services programs in the city.
He lists off his accomplishments as one would a grocery list: He directed a family resource center in an impoverished area; set up transportation for young mothers to get to work; opened a dental clinic for kids without insurance; and worked with the archdiocese to build a warming shelter for the homeless. A lot of his recent work has been with elderly citizens, coordinating efforts to help them stay independent in their homes.
The Green Bay native credits his parents with inspiring his early career. “Both were very active in their community. I think that’s where my bleeding heart attitude comes from.”
Discovering a New Sustainable Development Career
After a decade in human services, David wanted a second degree to advance his career but was unsure of a field to pursue. “I don’t like sitting at a desk all day,” he says. “I like to be active, out in the community, coordinating things, and meeting people.”
David was also drawn to the idea of transdisciplinary interaction, which crosses disciplines and stakeholders—and is a hallmark of sustainability.
“When I found the UW Sustainable Management program through UW-Superior, I knew it would blend well with human development. Sustainability is also a development field but with an even broader scope. It’s about improving the world for all countries and all life.”
It helps that David has been passionate about the environment since he first learned about global warming in grade school in the ’80s. “I remember loving Earth Day celebrations. And in high school, I was glued to the TV when the Kyoto Protocol was signed. I’ve been fascinated by UN climate negotiations ever since.”
Other than finding the right major, David had one other concern about going back to school. He was a busy adult with a family. Once he started the online UW Sustainable Management program, he realized he could study and still have enough time with his wife and two boys, ages 13 and seven.
Looking back, David says his two favorite aspects of the program were the cutting-edge curriculum and its usefulness in real life.
Each course is like a piece of a puzzle, David explains, and at the end of the program, you have a well-rounded understanding of sustainability and how it’s integrated into everything we do in our homes, communities, and governments.
“The courses—especially The Natural Environment and economics courses—were very applicable to the real world of business and government. The economics of sustainability and things like renewable energy and locally sourced food are widely misunderstood in many institutions.”
The faculty members who teach the courses are at the forefront of sustainability thinking, something that was very important to David. “This program brought together the most knowledgeable professors in the UW System to create a truly unique learning experience.”
Another unique aspect of the program was the creative ways in which it fostered learning and bonds between students. “I made some great connections and friendships with other students. My classmates had such great ideas and experiences, and the fact that each person could share and discuss them in the safe space of the online discussions boards made for a better learning environment than the classroom.”
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Immersed in Sustainability Policy
David says his master’s degree in Sustainable Management opened up doors for him. While in the program, he did internships with two leading sustainability organizations—something he might not have done without strong encouragement from the program staff.
One was at the Worldwatch Institute headquarters in Washington, D.C. “For three months, I worked with the climate and energy team leading up to the Paris Climate Summit. I did research and data visualizations of greenhouse gas concentrations in different countries.”
He was supposed to go to the summit with his team, but after the Paris attacks, security tightened and the institute decided not to send its interns.
Around the same time, David was offered a remote internship with Natural Capitalism Solutions. “I was in a supportive research role, helping put together a U.S. carbon sequestration plan. It involved sucking carbon from the atmosphere back into the Earth using the most non-invasive methods possible.”
David’s internships doubled as his final Sustainable Management course, the capstone project. “I was very excited to focus my capstone on what I learned from the two experiences—because I gained a lot of insight.”
Making a Difference on a Global Scale
“This program brought together the most knowledgeable professors in the UW System to create a truly unique learning experience.”
This summer, David has applied for local internships in the private sector. “I’d like to help a company analyze its carbon footprint and sustainability metrics, so they can start improving their triple bottom line.”
For example, Nature’s Way makes herbal medicine products sold at Walmart and has to be in compliance with Walmart’s sustainability policies. So they need someone to assess ways in which to do that.
Soon, David hopes to be in a position to achieve his long-time dream: an international sustainable development career.
“During the last year, the UN led so many successful international agreements. It sets a good tone going forward, helping ensure a strong commitment to the well-being of the Earth. It’s my dream to work with them.”
So far, David has interviewed for three different positions with the UN “It’s tough, but I’m confident I will work my way in, perhaps as a consultant doing human services work in developing countries. In the meantime, I’ll continue building my resume with these amazing sustainable development job experiences in the civil and private sectors.”