By Shelby Kuenzli, Digital Marketing EcoFellow

This past week, four of the EcoFellows participated in the Bard College C2C Fellows Network program. This is a national program for undergraduates and recent graduates aspiring for leadership positions in sustainable policy, politics and business. This two-and-a-half-day conference provided a great opportunity for us to learn about potential sustainability career paths we can take as well as network with other young environmental professionals.

Day One

The first night each participant was asked to give a one-minute pitch about a passion, project, idea or business proposal that they had to offer. It allowed everyone to express what they were passionate about and how they intend to use their skills to make an impact on the environmental field. Three winners were then chosen by the group to present thought out plans for their ideas on the last day. The Director of the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College, Dr. Eban Goodstein then introduced himself and gave an inspiring presentation about key techniques to implement change. He made a point that really resonated with me about the current environmental state of the world, he told us that it is that it is getting “better and better and worse and worse, faster and faster”. Every day we are a part of the race to solve pressing environmental issues and understanding why and how we got there is important. After hearing Goodstein speak, Green Business Fellow Avery summed up our reaction to Dr. Goodsteins presentation, saying “we ARE adapting to climate change, even with the great challenges we face in confronting environmental issues. Seeing so many young people committed to working toward sustainability was inspirational and motivational”.

In addition to being the Director of the CEP, Goodstein also runs the MBA in Sustainability program at Bard. He had valuable advice and insight on the career paths one can take in sustainability. The three broad areas he said aspiring sustainability professionals could pursue were:

  • Changing people’s minds through education.
  • Changing the rules through policy.
  • Changing the game through business initiatives.

With this information, we were given the opportunity to ask a panel of sustainability professionals about what career paths they took and advice they had for us. This was extremely valuable and gave us a chance to see where we could be in the next five years.

Day Two

The following day, we learned more information about broad topics like fundraising and communication, which are important to furthering your goals. According to Goodstein, the key to fundraising is just to, in fact, ask! You have to have courage and conviction in your vision and not apologize for asking for help. You have to have the courage to ask for help and then allow potential donors to respond and not be afraid of rejection. We also learned that a key component of communication, like many other things, is just to practice. Repetition and practice makes stories easier to tell and more fluid. To facilitate thinking about which skills are our strongest, we were invited to participate in a “skills inventory” workshop where we meditated on what our leadership strengths are. We then shared our thoughts with the group and bounced ideas off of each other about how we can use those skills in the future. With these lessons in mind, we spent the next three hours preparing and perfecting a persuasive personal story we could use to inspire others or to promote our ideas. To end the night, we learned about how climate action is tied in with social justice.

Day Three

On the final day of the conference, the winners chosen for their ideas during the one minute pitch on day one gave a longer, more developed version of their business pitch. The top three ideas were to turn algae on Lake Erie into farm fertilizer, to engineer better toilets to allow collection of human urine for processing and use as a natural fertilizer, and to have pre-emptive donation service app to prepare for inevitable natural disasters. All of the ideas were innovative and the presentations were so professional and the presenters were prepared to answer questions. All of the ideas could become viable products.

Afterwards, we broke into four groups different from the previous day to tell our personal stories one last time. It was extremely inspiring to hear about everyone’s lives and how they found their way to wanting to work in the environmental sector. We then wrapped up with voting on our favorite personal stories and giving awards to the business pitches. Overall, for me, this was a great experience not only for the knowledge we gained, but also for the fantastic young professionals we met (people who are just like us!) and the incredible reflection and growth that happened in just a few days.

What were our favorite parts?

Being part of a large group of highly-motivated future leaders was the highlight of this experience. By sharing with them my story and ideas and getting their feedback I realized the power of collaboration and practice” –Jorge

My favorite part was the final day where we got to hear more people’s personal stories. Facts are great and important but what you will really remember about someone is the emotion they invoke in you by telling a relatable story. I also really enjoyed listening to Eban about the potential paths one can take through sustainability” –Shelby

It is important to know the different ways of engaging in environmental work and which one you are interested in. Eban emphasized that one can change the “rules” of sustainability (policy, regulations, etc.), change minds (education, arts, etc.), or change the “game” of sustainability (business, practice, etc.)” –Avery

My favorite part of the conference was hearing from the panel of young professionals who shared their insight into their different jobs, passions, and how they landed where they are now” – Willow

A big thank you to Bard College for the experience and for all the other young professionals that joined us. If you’re interested in what other experiences are offered by the EcoFellowship, check out the articles below.