Con Vocare: Calling together for meaningful change

Many things about graduation are based on traditions that go back almost a thousand years, including the gowns we wear. Thankfully, we wear these “regalia” only a couple of times per year. The word “convocation” comes from the Latin words “con”, meaning together and “vocare”, meaning to call. So, convocation means a “calling together,” in this case to celebrate the students graduating here today. But it also to call together the family, friends, staff, and faculty that provided the support and guidance to make sure all of these students sitting in the front rows could reach this watershed moment.

To the students, I know all of you are excited to be graduating, as you should be. But with any transition, there is always some degree of anxiety and uncertainty. For the past handful of years, you have been able to explore, grow, and learn in a nurturing environment, guided by faculty and staff that care about your well-being and want nothing more than to see you succeed. Leaving that environment and venturing out on your own can be unsettling. I understand that.

The one thing I want all of you to remember is that you are certainly not on your own when you graduate from the school. You are and always will be part of the SOS family. You will be joining nearly 2,000 alumni who have gone on to do incredible things; achievements we never could have envisioned when we started the school some 11 years ago.

You will come to rely, as past graduates have, on the alumni and school networks for support, for the generation of novel ideas, and for pathways for getting things done. All of you know that sustainability challenges and opportunities are complex, meaning that no individual alone can tackle them in a meaningful way. You will need to lean on each other to move the needle on sustainability, something which I know inspired all of you to join the school in the first place. To make positive change, don’t forget to “call together” your sustainability allies, your alma mater, and the lifelong friends you have made at ASU and the School of Sustainability. Remember the words: Con Vocare. Those words are not just for graduation. They should serve you for life and help you, working with others, to build a better, more humane, and sustainable future. 

Congratulations Class of 2017.

A funny thing happened on the way to the job market

Deans of colleges and schools have an annual ritual. Each fall, they greet their incoming class of freshmen – excited, hopeful and mostly young minds ready to enter adulthood, citizenship and self-sufficiency.

These students have worked hard to get into the school of their choice, and now their journey begins. This meeting is a blend of informational, inspirational and joyous.

Often sitting beside these excited young students are their equally excited parents, who have sacrificed to enable their children to reach this auspicious moment. They dream their children will become the proverbial “doctors and lawyers and such,” and also artists, engineers, historians, teachers, journalists and other well-known vocations.

But when the dean of a sustainability school addresses an incoming class, something curious happens. Every time.

Incoming students who have chosen sustainability as their career path have expressions that unmistakably say, “I want to save the planet.”

At the same time, their parents seem somewhat mystified, wondering, “Will my child be able to get a job with this degree?”

When Arizona State University opened its School of Sustainability in 2006, it was widely considered to be the first school of its kind in the U.S. To be honest, nobody knew how many students would enroll, let alone where they would work after graduation.

One faculty member quipped, “It’s not as though our students can look in the want ads under ‘S’ and find a career path.”

By comparison, today there are hundreds of sustainability programs offered by universities, and employers of all sorts are keenly interested in their graduates.

A 2016 survey of ASU’s undergraduate sustainability alumni showed that 96 percent were employed or attending graduate school. What’s more, 67 percent of employed students were working in sustainability-related jobs – more than twice the national average for major-to-career match.

Those are good odds.

But how can this be? After a decade of working with sustainability alumni and their employers, we know that sustainability is more than just a major. It is also a value – a set of principles by which to live one’s life, treat humankind and the Earth – all in a way that helps create a prosperous future for everyone.

Employers of all kinds are attracted to workers who hold these values and have attained the skills that sustainability students are required to master – systems-level, future-focused thinking and the ability to engage and collaborate with stakeholders to develop and implement solutions, among other skills.

In 2006, we couldn’t predict who would employ our graduates, other than perhaps the obvious environmental and conservation-oriented organizations. But since then, our graduates have consistently gotten good jobs at top-notch companies, important government agencies and major international nonprofits. Some examples: Amazon, PepsiCo, Walmart, NRG, Tesla, cities throughout the U.S., GE, Rolls Royce, Waste Management, World Wildlife Fund, USAA Insurance, Owens-Corning, Sandia National Labs, Dell.

So, when this dean greets incoming sustainability students, he understands the earnest concerns parents have about their child’s employment prospects. But he is also confident that these fears will, on graduation day several years from then, have been allayed.

This short article appeared in a number of newspapers in the Valley and across the country.

Honor Sustainability

Tonight I will be attending–at the kind invitation of our students–the Honor Society for Sustainability banquet. This is a great chance to celebrate accomplishments, including graduation, as well as induct new members into the society. Similar to many other sustainability efforts, ASU was the first to create a national honor society specifically for sustainability.

I am pleased The Honor Society for Sustainability is open to students at ASU in other sustainability programs besides our majors.  In my book, sustainability is something to be shared, not hoarded. In the next year, my hope is that chapters will open at other universities around the country. To really make a difference in addressing sustainability challenges requires concerted collaboration and network building.

I like the words “honor” and “sustainability” sharing the same space. Honor, as we know, can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it is often used to describe something or someone held in high esteem. Sustainability deserves our highest esteem for the magnitude of challenges it takes on alongside the sense that we can create a better future. As a verb, honor can denote an action of holding something or someone in high esteem, like a great piece of art or a loved relative. To honor can also mean to fulfill an obligation or keep a promise.

For the students graduating from ASU this year and to the new inductees, I would like them to think of the Honor Society for Sustainability in both meanings of the word honor. We have events like banquets to hold you in high esteem as excellent students. But you should also think of honoring the society and honoring the promises and obligations you must keep to ensure that its mission, and the mission of sustainability, remain with you no matter where you go.



Convocation address, Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership Class of 2016

convo_emslIt is my great pleasure to be here to celebrate the 2nd graduating class of the EMSL. Many of you know that this degree was created in response to demand from working professionals, like yourselves, and from our partners in industry, government, and NGOs. The message was loud and clear – in the rapidly growing field of sustainability what was needed most urgently was leadership.

Organizations then as now are looking for individuals who can formulate a clear vision, communicate it and share it effectively so that others will follow and support that vision, provide the resources and support to realize the vision, and find ways to balance conflicting priorities and interests of stakeholders in order to achieve goals.

Leadership is hard. It’s even harder when you need to practice it in a new, unfamiliar field that spans and transcends multiple boundaries. You most likely will not be leading the production of widgets. You will be convincing sometimes entrenched stakeholders that an integrated systems approach to how organizations function, that puts into practice key sustainability principles, will add value, enrich the company’s vision and culture, energize employees and clients, and move the world closer to a more desirable future.

This is an enormous challenge, but one that will surely get you out of the bed in the morning. I realize I am talking to a biased sample in this auditorium – you came here in the first place because you want to make a difference, a few simple words that are incredibly inspiring, without limits, but a goal that each of us can realize in our lifetimes.

David Brooks, the op-ed contributor to the New York Times, reminds us to think about our “eulogy” virtues and not just our “resume” virtues. We spend a great deal of time and effort trying to fill out and strengthen our resumes with job experiences and accomplishments. This is important, but when people gather in a large room like this to celebrate the end of your life, ask yourself how you would want to be remembered, and let that guide the pathways you take, and make. From this kind of reflection on what is most important, we will all benefit – this generation, future generations, and the planetary systems that provide the basis for the beautiful and wondrous thing we call life.

I urge you to make the most of the new lives you embark on today, for yourselves and for the people who will remember and thank you for the differences you make.

Congratulations class of 2016.


David Brooks, “The Moral Bucket List” New York Times, April 11, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/david-brooks-the-moral-bucket-list.html?_r=0


Reason No. 9: Make a difference, and others may follow

Photo by Tim Trumble
Photo by Tim Trumble

“Be the change you want to see in the world”*, a message that adorns many t-shirts and bumper stickers, is an elegant summary of what drives and inspires students in the School of Sustainability. One of the first lessons our students learn is that sustainability is about hope and action. Understanding the nature of human and environmental problems is important, but sustainability trains students how to take action, generate solutions, and build a desirable future. No one can build a desirable future for the planet on their own, but individual actions and ideas can inspire others to follow, especially if the ideas are good and compelling.

Several years ago, I heard a presentation by the eminent Sustainability scholar, Professor William Clark, on what is required to make good ideas like sustainability resonate with people and take hold. He argued that our ideas should be salient, credible, and legitimate. By salient, he means that the information or argument we create or use should be relevant for making a decision. Credible means that the information or argument meets the highest standards of scientific plausibility. Legitimate means that the process for gathering the information or making the recommendation is fair and unbiased, making sure that as many stakeholders as possible have an opportunity to voice their needs and wishes.  What this means for you is that when you develop an idea for how to solve a problem or develop a solution to a sustainability concern, we can teach you how to make that idea salient, credible, and legitimate. The more you can do that, the more likely you will create a lasting impact in positive ways.

Be the change you want to see in the world, and the world may follow.

Ready to join the School of Sustainability? Click here to find out how.

* Although this is often attributed to Mahatma Ghandi, there is no evidence he ever spoke or wrote these words exactly:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/opinion/falser-words-were-never-spoken.html?_r=0

Reason No. 8: Undergraduate research opportunities at a top research university

Reason No. 7: Meaningful Internships

Sustainability internship poster session 2 When the school opened its doors in 2007, we decided to make a special investment in a dedicated internship coordinator. Since sustainability was a very young field, we wanted to be sure that our students had the opportunity to show how they could add value to workplaces. We also recognized then, as now, that internships are important for building resumes and professional skills, and for giving our students a chance to try out what they learned in the classroom in the “real” world. You will find that the internship is a very rich and worthwhile experience and a really important part of your education. The School of Sustainability will be with you every step of the way to make sure it is a meaningful educational opportunity.

The internship program in the School of Sustainability has been a shining success. We now have more internships than students, a product of our excellent staff members who work tirelessly to identify the best possible opportunities for you. The first thing they do is match your interests to the internship. You will meet with the internship coordinator, talk about your studies and career goals, and then build a portfolio of opportunities. While you are pursuing your internship, you will enroll in a class offered by the internship coordinator. This is a skills building class that allows you to translate what you learn immediately to the internship experience. You will learn how to problem solve, work effectively in the workplace, and improve your professional communication skills. The highlight and culminating experience is a poster session where you and other students will summarize what you did and what you learned. Internship providers, as well as faculty and staff, come to the poster session. This is a great chance for you to reflect on your accomplishments and to meet and greet other potential employers.  The poster session is very fun and informative and you will walk away with another product for your portfolio. And remember, you can always do more than one internship!


Want to know more about how we will help you will find an internship? Have a look at this “Getting Started” guide.

Here are a couple of stories about internships students like you have benefitted from.

  1. Sustainability Internship with Dell Corporation
  2. Sustainability Internship at Pepsico

If you have any questions about the program, please take a look at our internship page and feel free to contact us. The one thing we have heard from alumni is that it’s never too early to start planning for an internship.



Reason No. 6: Vibrant Community, Small Residential College in a Large Research University

School of Sustainability Residential Community raised gardensOne of the five core competencies we teach our students is collaboration (the other four, if you want to start studying, are systems thinking, future thinking, values thinking, and strategic thinking). The essence of this idea is that to understand or solve complex sustainability challenges, you need to be able to collaborate. No single person has the capacity or capability to tackle the really fundamental challenges we face. You will have to rely on others and actually learn the skill of collaborating.

Effective collaboration depends on a lot of factors, but building a sense of community and shared purpose is one key ingredient. The School of Sustainability is a wonderful incubator for building community, and for many of you it will start in the residences. The School of Sustainability Residential Community (SOSRC) is where many of you will begin building the collaborative networks that will help you succeed in classes, in university life, and in life after college.  The SOSRC is located in Adelphi II, which recently underwent some renovations guided by sustainability principles developed with students (see photo above). This is a nurturing and supportive environment where you will learn how to work together to get things done. You will be surrounded by students from the same major who, like you, are looking for an education inside and outside the classroom that focuses on solutions. It is a wonderful community where you will quickly develop a sense of belonging.

The School of Sustainability provides a full-time staff member to be a resource for you in the residential community. This person helps you arrange special events (including dinners and lunches with the dean), pinpoint resources for projects (such as the SIRF I wrote about last week), organize outings on and around campus, design and deliver field trips, and in general make sure you get the most out of your experience in the SOSRC.

In previous posts I have written about the advantages of building community in a small college in a large research-intensive university. The SOSRC, as a small residential community within a small college, is a great way for you to develop that sense of belonging that we cherish in the School of Sustainability. Residential life is a beginning point in your development as a sustainability student, a great way to start learning the importance of collaboration to meet with confidence the challenges ahead of us.

Have a look at our residential life page and see how it can help you become part of the SOS team. I look forward to having dinner with you there this fall!

Reason No. 5: Sustainable Campus, or Walking the Talk

Sustainable campusWhatever mode of transport you take to campus your first day, you will not help but notice that ASU is a campus that takes sustainability very seriously. One example in plain view is the large number of photovoltaic solar panels. One of the New American University principles is to Leverage Our Place. We don’t call this the “Valley of the Sun” without reason. In a typical year, we receive nearly 4000 hours of sun, the most of any large city in the United States. That is a huge, free energy source and ASU has put in place enough solar panels to capture 25 megawatts, the most by far of any university on the country. It is enough to meet 43 percent of the university’s peak time needs.  This example is more than a symbol — it is a very real commitment to making a difference in meeting global (and local) sustainability challenges. ASU is the national leader in campus sustainability.

President Crow was the original co-chair and leader of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which seeks to reduce or eliminate harmful greenhouse gas emissions from university and college operations. ASU has a very bold commitment to become carbon neutral by 2025, to divert 90 percent of solid waste from landfills by 2015, and to integrate sustainability practices into all operations of the university. ASU has 6 full-time staff in its Office of University Sustainability Practices.

New sustainability projects crop up on campus every year, and students are often leading the charge. In the School of Sustainability, we use the campus as a “living laboratory” for how to learn about sustainability, and how to create and implement solutions. Many of our classes ask students to develop sustainability solutions and apply them to what is already a very sustainability campus — a welcome challenge! Students, as well as staff and faculty, can apply to a Sustainability Initiatives Revolving Fund (SIRF) that provides funds to foster and enable sustainable practices on campus. This past year, students in the School of Sustainability successfully won grant funds to build raised gardens in their residential community.

Walking the talk, learning by doing, and turning principles into practice are integral to the sustainability philosophy of ASU and especially the School of Sustainability. When you come to ASU and join our school you will be immersed in a learning and doing environment that lives and breathes sustainability, skills and ideas you will take with you no matter where you go. Start your journey now by joining the nation’s preeminent sustainability program. You will be glad you did. Tune in next week to see one more reason why.

Reason No. 4: Financial Assistance

BoostI was thrilled to see the announcement yesterday in the New York Times that Starbucks will provide very generous support for students to complete their degree with ASU Online.  This is a great partnership that brings together two organizations that recognize the importance of higher education to the long term success of individuals, communities, and the country.

Despite declining state support for higher education and resulting increases in tuition at universities, a college degree still remains a very good deal. Several reports recently have cited the very strong return on investment for people who earn a college degree compared to people with a high school education or less.  Labor Department statistics show that on average people with a college degree earn almost twice per hour than people with a high school education, and that gap has increased over the last five years and considerably over the last 60 years.

These figures demonstrate that college debt is the best kind of debt you will take on because the potential returns are so high. Nevertheless, the more than $1 trillion in student debt, which now exceeds credit card debt, is not something to be ignored. ASU and President Crow are leading the charge to make college affordable and worthwhile and to make sure that students and families who make the investment know they are likely to graduate and succeed.

So what can we do to help students with financial difficulties? First, ASU provides one of the “best bangs for the buck” meaning it delivers a high quality education where students succeed at high rates and for affordable costs.  More than 70 percent of students at ASU receive some form of financial assistance, which in 2012-2013 amounted to a billion dollars.

Financial assistance comes in many forms — scholarships, grants, work study, hourly employment, and loans. In the School of Sustainability, we offer a number of work-study and hourly positions where you gain valuable experience to build your resume while putting some dollars in your pocket. This past year, we started a Sustainability Champions scholarship for first time freshmen. This provides $2500 that you can use to help you pay for your tuition or for expenses to help you solve a sustainability challenge of your choosing. In addition, the School of Sustainability has 4 named scholarships and will be adding 2 others next year. I strongly encourage you to look at these opportunities as well as others that are open to all ASU students.

Come be a part of a university that is committed to the idea that success in college should not be dictated by family income — all students, regardless of background, deserve to have an opportunity to achieve their best, to open doors in a way that only a college education can. We are here to help you. Please don’t hesitate to ask. Feel free to contact any of our fantastic academic success specialists about financial assistance that will help you achieve your dream of getting a sustainability degree.