Classroom connections to real world experience: XMNR projects lead to career advancement and change
August 22, 2023
By David Robertson
Each year, students in Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program complete dozens of experiential service learning and consulting projects with external partners in the public and private sectors. These projects help our students gain relevant professional experience, expand their networks, and fill their resumes and portfolios with tangible work samples. It is also a way for our students to have greater influence in the workplace, impact within their networks and communities, and confidence to lead change in the world.
Classroom projects, internships, and other forms of professional engagement are a key feature in the XMNR. These range in scope from one to nine months and include individual, team, and cohort-wide efforts for a variety of “clients.” These projects often take the form of consultancies and internships with local communities, partner organizations, and professional networks that are actively leading systems change for sustainable development, climate resilience, environmental justice, circular economy, ecosystem services, and related topics.
Whether pro bono consulting and skill-based volunteerism or paid roles with travel and other benefits, these projects provide an exceptional opportunity for XMNR students to engage with active environmental and sustainability professionals, learn from them, and contribute to the field.
Projects and partners
Projects and partners include the following recent examples:
- Resilient Virginia: XMNR students have worked with staff and partners of Resilient Virginia to help build capacity in the organization, develop Community-Based Case Studies, and make recommendations for forming a Regional Rural Resilience Collaborative.
- Corvias Infrastructure Solutions: XMNR students have worked extensively with Greg Cannito and colleagues at Corvias and their partners such as Storm & Stream Solutions, National Municipal Stormwater Alliance, and Rainplan to advance public–private partnerships such as the Clean Water Partnership in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
- Arlington County: XMNR students have worked for the past decade with Rich Dooley and partners, including the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy, on the county’s community energy and climate action planning. Most recently, our students are working with county staff on a baseline study for Resilience Hubs and planning for a Resilience Summit.
- PepsiCo: XMNR students have worked with Jeff Halvorson and colleagues at PepsiCo on systems mapping and recommendations for supply chain sustainability.
- Healthy Ocean Coalition: XMNR students have worked with XMNR alum Jenna Valente to develop the Healthy Ocean Advocacy Academy, a twice annual, three-day interactive capacity building training.
- Other examples include our many Global Study Capstone Projects and Guest Faculty and Service Learning Projects.
Job opportunities and career pathways
Importantly, some students leverage these projects and internships to create new job opportunities and career pathways. Some XMNR students have been hired by the organizations they work with on internships, whereas others have turned projects into entrepreneurial opportunities including new businesses, consulting practices, and funded programs.
Meenu Hochwalt has a “passion to lead change for ethical and sustainable supply chains in the fashion industry.” During the XMNR program, she completed an internship with sustainable fashion company Eileen Fisher. And, she chose to focus her Global Study Capstone Project on the carbon footprint strategies at Eileen Fischer and other companies. Meenu was subsequently hired by Eileen Fisher where she now works as a Materials Supply Chain Data Specialist.
Nathaniel Humphreys is a “driven, passionate, and adaptable professional with aspirations to make measurable impacts within the clean energy, sustainability, and natural resource sectors.” While a student in the XMNR program, Nathaniel worked with XMNR alum Becky Long to help the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) develop diversity and inclusion training for their members. Following graduation, SEIA hired Nathaniel to join their team as an Administrative and Operations Coordinator.
Kyle Langseth, an XMNR alum and Vice President of Langseth Engineering, envisioned a social innovation for carbon sequestration as a class project while in the XMNR program. Kyle subsequently turned this initiative into a thriving new business, Restoration Bioproducts. XMNR students are currently working with his company and partners on feasibility studies for utilizing urban wood waste for sustainable biochar production.
Value of networking
Most people don’t get jobs, or jobs that are a good fit for them, by blindly applying to job announcements. Rather, good jobs are often the result of active networking and engagement with other professionals. Most job opportunities are never advertised, and many jobs are created for people when they take the initiative to share their goals, skills, experience, and perspective with potential employers and others who can help them. Employers are not only looking for experienced candidates; they are looking for people with passion, commitment, and the capacity to learn and grow on the job.
The XMNR program creates opportunities for students to engage with potential employers and future clients through meaningful class projects. Students learn to make sense of complex environmental and sustainability systems, apply advanced leadership strategies and practices, engage diverse stakeholders in real world case projects, and improve their overall professional performance to advance their careers and lead change in the world.
Engage our students
If you or your organization would like to partner with us and our students on a class project or internship, please contact us and let’s discuss the opportunities in more detail. The benefits to the student are they gain real-world experience and expand their networks. The benefit to your organization is that our students can assist you with a project that meets your needs and theirs.
In past years our students have assisted with marketing plans, grant proposals, outreach to stakeholders, case study reports, and other work of mutual interest to them and the organizations sponsoring the project opportunities. The feedback we have received from organizations working with our students in past years has been very positive. We are excited to continue this work that advances the work of organizations like yours and provides our students with first-hand experience in the field.
David Robertson is the Director of the XMNR Program and Associate Director at CLiGS. David received a Ph.D. and a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from Virginia Tech and a B.A. in Art & Architecture from Montana State University. As the XMNR program director, David provides academic and career advising to students, works closely with faculty on curriculum development related to Systems Leadership, and engages with external partners to design projects and internship opportunities for students. His research and professional work is published in journals such as Society & Natural Resources, Conservation Biology, Ecology & Society, Environmental Management, and Environmental Science & Policy.