In 2015, Michele Kvistad completed a 12-credit University of Wisconsin Sustainable Management Science Certificate. It was a means to a bigger educational goal: pursuing a Master of Science in Environmental Planning at the Technische Universität in Berlin—and after that, a PhD.
But beyond fulfilling prerequisites, did the sustainability certificate affect her education and career? In a word, yes. She says it perfectly complemented her undergraduate degree in economics.
“Sustainable Management courses showed me how to apply economic theories to the environment,” she says. “This kind of education is unique in the United States, because to the business world, economics and the environment are still segregated.”
Designed with Life’s Twists in Mind
The Science Certificate includes four courses that delve into scientific aspects of sustainable management, such as ecology, chemistry, energy technology, and natural resources. Students learn how to apply those subjects to sustainable business strategies.
While taking certificate courses, Michele’s life changed drastically. She went through chemotherapy recovery, moved to Europe, got married, and obtained a German visa. The online sustainability certificate program was designed to accommodate busy schedules and life’s unpredictability. Not having to be physically present in classes meant Michele could finish coursework anywhere—even across the globe.
Michele adds that, for students with hearing disabilities, online programs are helpful. “I’m mostly deaf, so it’s challenging to take courses in-person. I miss a lot of information. But when I’m at home, I can read transcribed information or stop a lecture video and go back.”
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What Sustainability Certificate Courses Are Like
The University of Wisconsin professors who teach certificate courses were fantastic, Michele says. “They were really engaged with each student, not to mention enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Though courses were online, I connected with professors and students as much as I did in the classroom as an undergraduate.”
Michele was pleasantly surprised by the amount of hands-on field experience she did for the sustainability certificate. In one course, she analyzed soil samples. In another, she categorized plants near her home.
She often engaged in discussions with classmates on online forums within the learning management system. Living in Germany, Michele could offer an international perspective on everything from biodiversity to policy. For example, she shared the biggest difference between environmental policy in Europe and the United States: In Europe, citizen participation and protests affect environmental policy; in the States, government and businesses do.
She also shared that Berlin has a lot of untouched land within the city. These spaces, like the land that surrounded the Berlin Wall, have grown wild and become giant nature preserves. “That’s where I would go do my fieldwork for courses. Nature has completely taken it back. It’s now a big gateway for animals to migrate through the city. That surprises a lot of people, and it was fun to share those kinds of things in discussions.”
What the Future Holds
In October 2016, Michele began her master’s degree at Technische Universität, a two-year program that will flow right into her PhD.
Michele is optimistic about her future. She’s excited to be living in one of the most environmentally conscious cities in the world. Berlin is home to many “green” NGOs and corporations, so job prospects for environmental planning are bright. Ultimately, she wants to teach and be a research analyst for the university.
As a research analyst, she would work on local or international projects in one of four areas: environmental economics, geoinformation, landscape and environmental planning and development, and environmental assessment and policy. For example, the environmental assessment team recently made recommendations on how Peru can improve its environmental impact assessment process. “On one of these university teams, I could help improve environmental regulation. That’s my dream.”
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