ASU’s School of Sustainability spells success for graduates

Three female students talk and laugh outside of ASU's Wrigley Hall.A school that originally started as an experiment has become a leading example for other sustainability programs nationwide by Nicole Randock Students enter college today with the expectation that a job will be awaiting them upon graduation. The hefty price tag for their education is expected to reap valuable, lifelong rewards. As reported by, the cost of a degree at a “moderate” in-state public college averages $97,000. A diploma is an investment and after only 10 years in existence, Arizona State’s School of Sustainability is offering a good return on that investment. The school surveyed its undergraduate alumni last year and found that 48 percent had jobs related to sustainability, which is double the national average in other fields, according to the Arizona Science and Innovation Desk. The School of Sustainability offers students a one-of-a-kind interdisciplinary education while providing them with ample resources, mentors and internship opportunities. The school – the first of its kind in the nation – opened 10 years ago as an experiment, Dean Christopher Boone told the Arizona Science and Innovation Desk. “That early experiment has been validated by 150 other programs across the United States,” Boone explained. “To me, that’s a great sign because we actually need that scale of programs working on these kinds of solution-oriented degree programs to meet some of the urgent challenges that we face.” The School of Sustainability teaches students how to develop solutions for complex problems, which involves combining multiple fields of study to mitigate and solve social, economic and environmental concerns. Students learn about many things, including the economics of natural resources, dealing with droughts, and how to make cities more sustainable and enjoyable places to live. “ASU is the most disruptive university in the nation. Not only are we leaders in the sustainability space, but so many other fields as well. Transdisciplinary and solutions-oriented programs are very uncommon,” said Alex Slaymaker, a graduate of the Master of Sustainability Solutions program. Undergraduate, graduate and PhD alumni all have a high rate of employment according to the School of Sustainability’s Alumni Employment Data, which tracked alumni from Fall 2008 to Fall 2014. For example, of the 491 bachelors alumni the school was able to track, 95 percent were employed. Of those who were not employed, 4 percent were pursuing graduate education. “There is huge room for growth in our field [sustainability] and we desperately need more workers in America across all fields who have people skills and an understanding of adaptive, complex systems,” said Slaymaker. A large portion of the School of Sustainability's employed alumni have gone into private industry and government. The majority of the PhD graduates – 69 percent – go into academia. As well as providing job security, a degree in sustainability at ASU broadens horizons. Sustainability grads are traveling the world to work for some of the most established companies in business, including Amazon, Apple Inc., Intel, Singapore Private Corp, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Pepsi Co, Solar City, Honeywell, etc. “ASU provided me a wide open door full of opportunities; the hardest part was deciding which to pursue,” Slaymaker said. Additionally, ASU sustainability grads are finding employment in their given field. Of the 549 jobs that surveyed alumni held, 299 of them – or 54 percent – were related to sustainability, according to the Alumni Employment Data. It is important to point out, however, that a degree in sustainability is wide-ranging in terms of opportunity. Bruno Sarda, an adjunct ASU sustainability professor and head of sustainability at NRG Business Solutions, said not all graduates will have sustainability in their job title or description. Many graduates will need to apply sustainability principles and practices to their unique career. In his career, Sarda has worked with individuals who operate their jobs “through the lens of sustainability” – meaning, for example, applying sustainability skills in marketing and finance careers. “In the last five years, the number of Fortune 500 companies that actually put out a sustainability report has grown four-fold. It used to be about 20 percent of fortune 500 companies; it’s now 80 percent.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find a large organization that does not have some kind of sustainability program now,” Sarda said. For Sarda, the School of Sustainability stands out among other sustainability and environmental colleges because President Michael Crow has embedded the concept of interdisciplinary teaching at ASU. Sustainability is one of the ultimate interdisciplinary domains because teaching can’t be isolated to one subject. Therefore, most of ASU sustainability faculty are drawn from diverse education and career backgrounds, Sarda said. The school has been assembled so that it doesn’t live inside of one college. Instead, it is under the umbrella of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, which serves as the hub of sustainability at ASU. This is what makes the program so unique, according to Sarda. He also asserts that ASU attracts world-class faculty in part because the university is a world-class research institute. School of Sustainability instructor Christopher Robinson said there has been massive growth in the sustainability minor program offered within the school. Due to the versatility of sustainability, it is not surprising that most other colleges ensure that their major maps coincide with the sustainability minor. The school is also constantly progressing and developing new education tracks, such as the recently-established Doctor of Philosophy in Sustainable Energy. “All things combined, I think studying sustainability at ASU has a distinctive image,” Sarda said. Nicole Randock is a student in the School of Sustainability and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.