By Lindsay Kuczera

Aly Martin was entering an exciting, yet unknown, time in her life—approaching the completion of her undergraduate degree in criminology, and uncertain what direction she wanted to take. That’s when the pandemic hit and job opportunities came to an abrupt halt, which gave Aly the unique chance to reevaluate her next step.

From social sciences to environmental issues
Although Aly didn’t pursue a career in criminology, she had been able to take a few environmental classes in her undergrad that piqued her interest. Without a degree or experience in the environmental field, Aly found it impossible to meet the criteria employers were looking for, even in entry-level roles. Facing uncertainty about when the pandemic would end, Aly decided it was a good time to continue her studies in this new subject area. 

The connection between social science and environmental science is not hard to make. Aly found she could apply her criminology skills of studying behavior, law, and regulation, and pattern analysis to our most pressing planetary issues. And with that, she found Virginia Tech’s Masters of Natural Resources program. “When I started looking at master’s programs, I really liked that Virginia Tech welcomed students from all different backgrounds. Since there wasn’t pressure to go in with an environmental background, I felt more confident that I could keep up,” Aly said. “The curriculum was set up in such a way that I always felt like I was on par with the rest of the class.”

Discovering your way through trial and error
Aly was still in the very beginning of her career, trying to figure out what type of position she wanted to pursue. She had discovered late in her undergrad that she didn’t want to pursue a career in criminology, after an internship at a local police department. Her subsequent transition to the environmental field was sparked by the hope to be able to have a more hands-on career. But, remembering her past experience, she sought out an internship, just to be sure. Aly worked on oyster bay restoration with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the summer of 2021. Although she valued the experience and knowledge she gained, she realized that the manual labor that daily field work required was not for her. Being open to new experiences is very important for both our personal and professional development, and also to ensure we are being true to our passions—because when we thrive in our work, everyone benefits.

Connecting with the alum network
Aly started seeking full-time positions with the help of the Virginia Tech network. There are various domestic and international alum chapters that serve as a resource to help graduates connect with other alums and find opportunities. Aly posted on one of these pages and quickly received a response from a hiring manager at Veolia about an open position they had. Shortly after they connected, Aly was offered her first position, as an energy analyst for the company.

Veolia is dedicated to “ecological transformation” through radically changing patterns of production and consumption. Their focus areas include water management, smart development, waste treatment, circular economy, and energy efficiency. Aly is part of the energy efficiency team. She spends her time breaking down energy intake and metering reports for client tenant buildings and utility companies. Sustainability is the cornerstone of this work on both sides of the client base. By determining current energy usage, performance, cost, and primary sources, Aly and her team create sustainability reports that provide these findings as well as recommendations on how the clients can become more energy-efficient and sustainable.

Finding a new job—especially in a completely new field—can be daunting. But with the help and support of the Virginia Tech network, Aly was able to break into the industry in a new position that suits her newfound expertise.