Six years ago, when the unemployment rate for recent military veterans was more than two points above the national average, Gary Gilles managed to land his dream job right out of college. Gary graduated in May 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Flash forward to 2017, and the Chippewa Falls, Wis. native is still living his dream.
Gary started his journey by serving four years in the U.S. Air Force. He earned an associate degree in electrical engineering technology in 2005 and in 2009, was among the first to sign up for the online Sustainable Management degree offered by four University of Wisconsin campuses in cooperation with UW-Extension Continuing Education, Outreach and E-Learning.
“It had always been my goal to complete my bachelor’s degree, but I could never find the right degree program or the time. But sustainability is my passion, and with a lot of family support and the convenience of an online degree program, I persevered.”
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Capstone Project Cultivates a Passion for Agriculture
In the final course of the Sustainable Management curriculum, Gary found his opportunity to pursue his dream. The course, a capstone project in which students apply their knowledge to an industry-specific challenge, allowed Gary to work with GDS Associates, a consulting and engineering firm that employed 170 people in five locations across the country. His project centered on energy efficiency and renewable energy on dairy farms. Using his education in sustainable energy and systems thinking, he excelled in his capstone project and was offered a full time position with GDS Associates as an energy analyst in support of Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program.
“Wisconsin is known for its dairy industry. If Wisconsin dairy farms can compete more successfully with innovations in energy efficiency and renewable energy, the well-being of all our residents will be improved,” said Gary. “I’m grateful for my new career, which gives me not only opportunities to advance but is also one which I truly enjoy.”
Guiding Farmers in the Rockies with Their Water and Energy Conservation
Today, Gary continues to develop his career as an Energy Analyst for GDS Associates. He’s earned a Certified Energy Managers license (CEM) and has become certified to develop Agriculture Energy Management Plans for agriculture producers as a technical service provider (TSP) through the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Over the past couple of years, Gary has been heavily involved with efficiency programs in Colorado, where he works one-on-one with dairy and crop producers, identifying ways to conserve energy and water on their farms. He then works with these same producers to implement his recommendations. His work has taken him to many parts of Colorado, where farmers face an uncertain future due to high energy costs, low commodity prices, declining water levels in local aquifers, and strict regulations on water usage in agriculture production.
“The six years since I graduated have flown by. I still use the knowledge I gained from my sustainable management courses. I learned a lot about the challenge of aquifers running dry, so when I started the project in Colorado, I knew there would be no easy solutions. It’s a very serious problem. It’s best to conserve what’s already there.”
The Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management is one of several online degree completion programs that UW-Extension has developed in partnership with University of Wisconsin campuses. Read more about students in the UW Sustainable Management bachelor’s and master’s programs when you visit Experience UW SMGT.