Stories From a Lifelong Learner: Meet Retired Chemical Engineer and Sustainable Management Master’s Student Molla Anam

Tiffany Stronghart January 16, 2024
hand holding a light bulb with green energy and sustainablity symbols in the foreground

One of the most important things Molla Anam has learned throughout his engineering career is that he doesn’t want to ever stop learning. So much, in fact, that he decided to enroll in the Master of Science in Sustainable Management from the Universities of Wisconsin in his 80s.

Molla, a chemical engineer originally from India, spent his career working for a variety of industries, including a paper mill, chemical plant, and an oil refinery. Upon arriving in the U.S., he worked for Bechtel in New York, the company responsible for building the Hoover Dam and cleaning up Three Mile Island. Bechtel also built the State of Washington nuclear power plant, the Bay Bridge, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) metro rail in San Francisco.

After working for almost 50 years, Molla retired. While in retirement, he realized he needed some personal enrichment.

“I was sitting at home doing nothing, like most retired people,” he said. “I was feeling bored, and I wanted to do something.”

He began searching for a program that aligned with his background in the energy field, which is traditionally associated with environmental issues. He wanted to understand how environmental regulations and laws came into existence. While searching, he noticed a new term: sustainability. He began looking for sustainable management programs and landed on the Universities of Wisconsin.

“They were one of the best programs and they were highly flexible,” he said. “You can do it at night or while you are traveling. And you can take one course at a time.”

Molla began taking courses to complete the Sustainable Enterprise undergraduate certificate because it only required four courses; at the time, he wasn’t sure he would be able to manage the master’s degree program. However, he ended up enrolling in the master’s and has done very well so far. He has two courses left and plans to graduate within the next year. Once he finishes the degree, he hopes to get into consulting. He’s not interested in a 9-to-5 role like the job from which he retired but would like to do some volunteer work.

Molla has enjoyed all his courses in the program so far, and his engineering background has been a benefit to him as he navigates the curriculum. Topics like air pollution, water pollution, and solid waste management were relatively easy for him to grasp with his past work experience. He also studied psychology and organizational behavior in the program, which he found to be extremely useful.

While Molla is very knowledgeable about engineering, he emphasizes that he didn’t realize sustainability has multiple aspects: economic, environmental, and social. Each of these has significant implications not only on the environment, but the people living within it.

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“In third world countries, sustainability means economic development,” he says. However, in the case of economic development, the environment is often ignored–to the point that it’s regularly polluted. Social development is also often ignored in developed countries like the U.S.–which results in wealthy people getting wealthier, and poor people getting poorer because they aren’t benefiting.

“In order to call it a development, you have to develop all three sides: economic development, environmental development, and social development. Otherwise, it will be a partial development. I didn’t know about this. This course taught me that. It opened my eyes. If you just pull in one end, the other one is suffering.”

He appreciates that the program touches on so many subjects that overlap with his own career experience–like physics, chemistry, math, engineering, biology, psychology, geology and much more. “That was kind of a compilation of the lifelong education you either have or don’t have.”

Molla also emphasized the importance of responsive and caring instructors. “They are so cooperative. They bend over backwards to help students. They are open. I mean, you can ask a question on a Sunday afternoon. Within one hour, you can get an answer back from them. You won’t have to wait. They will listen patiently. They’re very flexible and cooperative.”

While the Sustainable Management master’s degree isn’t Molla’s only online learning experience–he’s taken courses, including MBA courses, at other universities–he understands the challenge students often face while studying and working full-time.

Despite the perceived difficulty, Molla notes: “Time is something you can manage. There are so many things people accomplish by managing time. While I was working full time, I had very pressing jobs. I was young. I had a family.” During this time, he did a lot of social work, including serving as the president of his community association twice, and as the cultural secretary. He was also involved in performing arts, and he wrote six books.

“I think if I could do it, anybody else can do it. And you see I am 83 now. At this age, if I can do it, I think young people can do it. They have more energy.”

 Are you interested in learning more about the Master of Science in Sustainable Management? 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

Programs: Sustainable Management