Sustainability a means of achieving change for alumnus

Mariela Castaneda

Mariela Castaneda is a water resource specialist at the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), a job she attained following an internship there during her senior year at Arizona State University (ASU). She graduated in 2013 from ASU’s School of Sustainability.

The Glendale, Ariz. native and graduate of Copper Canyon High School considered Northern Arizona University as well as the University of Arizona, but decided on ASU because of the financial support she received here.

Why did you choose to major in sustainability?

I came to ASU as an exploratory student. I didn’t really even know what sustainability was. But then a friend told me she had chosen to major in sustainability, and I decided to take an introductory SOS course. It ended up being exactly what I was looking for.

I grew up aware of environmental issues and of issues of social injustice worldwide. I actually cared about them at a young age. I wanted to help. Studying sustainability allowed me to work across disciplines and explore many interests.

What was your favorite thing about studying sustainability?

There was so much that I liked about SOS, but international development was my main area of interest within sustainability. Also, many of my classes had case study components, and this was one of my preferred methods of learning.

A defining moment for me was when I realized that sustainability is not a means to an end but a means of achieving change, and oftentimes it is a matter of finding best-case scenarios along a trajectory toward a more sustainable future.

How do you apply sustainability to your job?

The School of Sustainability taught me about systematic thinking and unintended consequences. It helped me realize that society, the environment, and the economy are not independent of one another. I use this understanding to think about water resources systematically.

Water resource management is crucial in areas like the desert Southwest where conditions are dry. During drought years, water availability may be in danger, and this can have very serious implications for society. If lakes and rivers dry up or their water levels lower enough, it can be hazardous to the environment as well.

What’s in your future?

Next for me is graduate school. I loved my research experience and project-based learning opportunities at ASU and have identified some master’s degree programs that will let me continue this type of learning.

Ultimately, I’d like to work on international projects that will help people in developing parts of the world live better, healthier, more sustainable lives.