UA alumni and Students for Sustainability leaders take on jobs in the sustainability field
Stephanie Choi graduated in 2017 and studied English and literacy learning and leadership. She was an Students For Sustainability co-director as an undergraduate and is now a full-time staff member for Cuyahoga County, Ohio, working with renewable energy and energy conservation.
“SFS was such a big part of my experience,” Choi, who was in the program all four years, said.
There are more than a handful of University of Arizona alumni who have gone into sustainability careers across the nation. Many were part of Students for Sustainability while they were in college. SFS is now looking for future directors and leaders, hoping to give them experience in environmental leadership like many co-directors before them.
Students for Sustainability has been an Associated Students of the University of Arizona program since 2008, and many graduates have gone directly into the sustainability field. They now have about 100 interns split among 10 different committees. The committees take on certain environmental issues and topics, such as environmental social justice, waste reduction and energy and climate, which are all lead by students.
“I think UA has endless opportunities and prepares you for what working is like as best as they can with the internships that they offer,” Choi said.
Choi was co-director of SFS with Trevor Ledbetter, the current director of the Office of Sustainability at the UA.
Ledbetter said he believes he knows why there are many accomplished SFS alumni that go into a sustainability field.
“I think it really has to do with how the program really empowers and engages student to take their wildest dreams or wildest sorts of ideas for our campus and our community and turning those into real action and something they can actually implement,” Ledbetter said.
Choi takes on a lot at the county’s office of sustainability, but she plans to pursue a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in creative writing in the fall.
“I really worked on the greenhouse gas emissions inventory for the community-wide and county operations and running the climate action planning process,” Choi said.
Choi felt that her work had a cumulative effct on many people that ended up making a larger change.
“It can be really rewarding in that sense, where you can educate a lot of people and just make small progress that eventually leads to more change in the future,” Choi said. “I really wanted to work in local government, so this was perfect for me. It was the perfect placement and type of institution and experience that I wanted.”
Amy Stalkfleet, a senior studying finance, said that as the current co-director, she “leads SFS in its sustainability initiatives, empower students in the program to work and change their campus for the better and strategize the longevity of the organization and student success in the program.”
She applied to be co-director around this time last year, after serving as a committee chair.
Now, SFS is deciding on next year’s director. New potential co-directors applied and interviewed in late March.
“I hope that the newer generation and future co-director will push harder and farther,” Stalkfleet said.
She also recognized the difficulties students can face when trying to make a difference.
“I know that it’s hard as a student in the short time you’re in college and in your positions to feel like you can’t make a lasting impact, but you really, really can,” Stalkfleet said. “Students are so incredible at making a difference and speaking their voices; I encourage everyone to speak louder and be confident.”
Stalkfleet plans to continue working in environmental organizations for non-profit organizations post-graduation.
Kaitlyn Elkind graduated from UA in May 2015 and got her graduate degree at NAU in environmental science. She is now working at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality as an Environmental Science Specialist II in the air quality division.
“I loved my experience at University of Arizona and with Student for Sustainability,” Elkind said. “I held multiple roles while in SFS. My senior year, I was a co-director of SFS, which allowed me to grow as a leader and taught me how to inspire other people on how they could make a difference.”
Beyond the professional, Elkind also developed personal relationships with the people she worked with.
“I met so many great people in SFS that I am still good friends with to this day,” Elkind said. “My UA and SFS connections have helped me expand, networking-wise.”
Catherine Riedel is co-director with Stalkfleet and a senior studying environmental sciences and geography.
“Trying to implement sustainable change is hard, particularly in a climate where people politicize it needlessly and don’t prioritize it to the level it needs to be,” Riedel said. “However, fighting through that and showing your constant passion can influence and touch so many other people.”
She also had advice for people interested in becoming the next directors for SFS.
“For future directors, I hope that they always hold onto the facets of sustainability that they love, that inspire them and that drive them,” Riedel said. “Having a clear and dedicated reason for what you’re doing makes all the hard work worth it.”
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