This Virginia Tech Institute Focuses Students on Sustainability

Mar 9, 2016



“What we’re seeing now is, that employers are looking for candidates that are rooted in an academic discipline, are more prepared to enter the work force, but who can also problem solve with what we call a sustainability lens.”

Angie DeSoto is director of the new Sustainability Institute at Virginia Tech.  It offers a month-long boot camp for juniors and seniors how to focus whatever job they’ll be doing at a firm through that sustainability lens.

“And that’s what gives them dual value to potential employers that are looking for say, entry level engineers or lab techs but that they understand the environmental the economic and social and economic implications of the decisions they make in that position.”

No matter what the field---goes the thinking, any and every job can be approached this way. Take accounting for instance.

“There’s a huge business case and economic impact for investing in energy efficiency and waste reduction, which are common sustainability practices, so having an accountant that is able to look at those dollars and sense that are saved every month, that’s how you can justify the payback for energy efficiency, retro-fitting that’s happening in a different area of the business.”

It’s not a degree program, and there’s no cost to the students who are accepted for the immersion course. They learned about the latest technologies, worked at Virginia firms to implement projects they pitched to the companies, but perhaps most import, they learn how to communicate their ideas for sustainability to potential employers.

“I can’t tell you how many people that I met with that told me that students are awkward at job fairs and they don’t know how to interact with them and they don’t know how to talk about their experiences. And that’s setting them back because they might look fantastic on paper and have a great skill set that they’re looking for, but if they can’t communicate that value to a potential employer, they’re not going to get an interview. And that is a major gap that I think higher education in general needs to address, but this is a way that we can move forward in that direction with this type of transition education program.”

DeSoto majored in environmental policy and planning and political science at Virginia Tech.  Like her, she says so many students say working for sustainability is their dream job.  So she tells them:

“You do not need to have sustainability in your title or in your job description to be a sustainability professional.  It’s the way that you see the world and the way that you approach and solve problems.  That’s what brings value to employers.  Not that line on your resume or word in your title.  It’s that fundamental way of moving forward as a society.”

The new Sustainability Center will hold another boot camp this summer and again during Tech’s winter break next year. You can find out how companies can participate in the Sustainability Institute's boot camp here.