By Alec Masella 

Daniel Dydek came to Virginia Tech’s Online Master of Natural Resources (OMNR) program with the goal to put his diverse set of skills—spanning creative writing, bicycle mechanics, oil and gas, and military service—to use in conservation and sustainability. “In my heart, I am first and foremost a writer,” Daniel says. “I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. Before getting my degree in writing, I had been in the Army for three years. So those two experiences gave me the ability to express myself clearly; they gave me the skillset to articulate high-level, ethical issues. That, of course, is crucial to effective leadership in global sustainability.”

Cultivating a mindset open to new opportunities 
Prior to joining the Online MNR program, Daniel worked as a bike mechanic for six years. During that time, a member of his church, who worked in the oil and gas industry, offered Daniel a contract position at Williams Oil & Gas that would turn into full-time employment.

Online MNR alum Daniel Dydek is using a wheelbarrow to bring sand down the trail as part of a resurfacing project to improve drainage by adding stone and sand and allow the trails to be ridden sustainably all year around.
Daniel is using a wheelbarrow to bring sand down the trail as part of a resurfacing project to improve drainage by adding stone and sand and allow the trails to be ridden sustainably all year around.

“My title was Environmental Specialist,” he explains, “and my main purpose at the company was to organize permit documents. I dealt with tons of paper everywhere, and I got to read through the permits and see what the requirements were for certain oil projects, and it actually became quite interesting to me. The same friend who helped get me the position pushed me to get a master’s degree in environmental science. I looked around, and I found the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability online program. What drew me to it was that it really was made for working professionals, and I loved the flexibility aspect. It was perfect.” 

Developing a global perspective through a personal lens 
Being a biking enthusiast, Daniel was excited to see that one of the Global Study trips—an integral part of the program—would take place in South Africa, home of the Absa Cape Epic, a mountain biking stage race held annually in the Western Cape. In addition to having a personal connection to the destination, the complexity of South Africa’s sustainability issues drew Daniel to the experience. 

“South Africa was an incredible experience for me,” he explains. “I had heard about the water crisis they were having, and I related it to the mountain biking race that I was following and how much the water crisis had affected it. Everything from drinking water to shower water was affected for the bikers. Seeing all of the issues the country faced was definitely eye-opening. At one moment we would be enjoying a vintage winery, and at another we would see and experience water scarcity. I drew comparisons to how the United States has to source water from the Colorado River for Phoenix. The biggest takeaway from the trip was that everything in sustainability is exponentially more complicated than it seems.” 

Getting comfortable with complexity
Exploring the many layers of sustainability and conservation is something to which Daniel’s past experience in military and creative communication lends itself well. Constructing a pipeline, for instance, is complicated. Ensuring power and water resources for communities often comes at the cost of disturbing wetlands. The communication and leadership elements of the MNR program helped take Daniel’s skills to the next level so that he could become better equipped at mitigating these effects.

Online MNR alum Daniel Dydek is building a stone retaining wall.
Building a stone retaining wall.

“Fortunately, I came into the program with a lot of experience in expressing complex ideas,” Daniel explains. “Being in oil and gas, I was steeped in that environment. Meeting human needs is an important goal in the oil and gas industry. But people do not realize that it’s not a straightforward process. For example, some people are against fracking, but they still want gas heating. There are, however, ways to lessen the harmful effects of these processes. Sustainability, at least for now, is all about moving toward renewable energy.”

As Daniel further explores opportunities in sustainability, he continues to work in conserving high-traffic areas in the Cleveland metropolitan area by maintaining green spaces and building sustainable trails.

Online MNR Daniel Dydek

Daniel Dydek currently works with Cleveland Metroparks as a Trails Volunteer Coordinator, where his responsibilities include building new trails and maintaining existing ones. He also leads volunteer groups twice a week to conduct trail maintenance tasks. Bringing excellence to the experiences of all trail users within the Metroparks system is Daniel’s ultimate goal in his career.