By David Robertson

Starting a new career can be daunting and exhilarating. It can also be a lot of work. Is the risk worth the reward? Will the return on investment of my time and money be worth it? Will I succeed? Can I do this? 

Whether you are an early career starter, rejoining the workforce after a hiatus, switching sectors or functional roles, or simply looking to make a promotion and advance along a path you’ve already started, this blog post will have some success stories that you may find helpful as you pursue your own career transition.  

Change is seldom easy. It helps to have a vision, strategy, and support. That’s why we work closely with students and alumni from Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program, providing one-on-one advising and small-group coaching to help them refine their goals, develop a plan, and accomplish their dreams. The XMNR curriculum is a transformative learning experience and our career coaching and advising is an added benefit that parallels activities in the classroom.

XMNR students and alumni are on the move
Working closely with staff at Virginia Tech’s Office of Career and Professional Development, XMNR faculty are able to help our students and alumni navigate  a career change while reaching their professional goals. The program's resources, networking opportunities, and interdisciplinary approach serve as valuable assets in achieving a successful career transition. 

Since the start of 2022, 25% of XMNR students and alumni have made a significant career transition. And, nearly half of our most recent alumni have accomplished their goals and made successful career transitions during the program or less than a year since graduation. Below is a list describing the new starts, changes, and advancements made by current students and last year’s alumni.

Career starters (and restarters)

  • Morgan Foster - A recent career starter, Morgan was promoted within The Nature Conservancy to project coordinator for the DEIJ initiative in Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration 2.0 program, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts.
  • Nathaniel Humphreys - An early career starter, Nathaniel completed an XMNR internship and class project with alum Becky Long and was subsequently hired by their organization, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) where he coordinates and provides support for a wide portfolio of projects. 
  • Mandi Gills - Starting a new career, Mandi has recently joined XMNR alum Makayla Haertel at Plateau GRP.
  • Tracey Coe - After a hiatus from work to raise children, Tracey recently restarted her career as the Ohio River Basin program coordinator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to help the marina industry go above and beyond their environmental regulations to protect water quality.  
  • Meenu Hochwalt - Building on her talents in fashion and information technology, Meenu leveraged her prior experience and new connections in the XMNR program to land a role as sustainability data specialist with Eileen Fisher clothing company.

Career changers

  • Brian Kaye - Shifting his career within the corporate sector, Brian recently joined Amazon as a senior risk manager working on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing issues as part of their worldwide sustainability team.
  • Steve Pollard - Shifting between the public and private sectors, Steve has recently landed back in the federal government at the U.S. Department of Interior where he applies his research and analytical skills, intercultural communication, and program management to help mitigate uncertainty and translate policy into action. 
  • Brande Goracke - A mission-oriented career changer with extensive international and domestic experience in the public and private sectors, Brande recently transitioned from active duty military in the US Army to environmental program manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Go Brande! 
  • Irene White - A former corporate marketing executive, Irene is applying data-driven decision-making and her collaborative innovation talents as a senior business advisor at Center for Sea Rise Solutions, SeaFutures and other climate related business and organizations to drive positive change for the planet and future generations.
  • Emily Irvine - Another bold career changer, Emily followed her passion for climate resilience and left the private sector to take a job in local government as the climate protection program manager for the City of Charlottesville.
  • Kate Leftin - Formerly a social worker with experience in fast-paced healthcare settings, Kate leveraged her data analysis, systems thinking, project management, community engagement, and communication skills to start a new role at Kimball Sustainable Healthcare as part of a team working with healthcare organizations to reduce their environmental impact.
Brande Goracke, XMNR alum, made a successful career change from active duty military to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Photo captured at the 2022 D.C. area graduation ceremony.
Brande Goracke, XMNR alum, made a successful career change from active duty military to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Photo captured at the 2022 D.C. area graduation ceremony.

Career advancers

  • Charles Newborn With extensive experience in the public and private sectors, Charles recently pivoted from state government to business consulting as vice president of operations for Solutions for Energy Efficient Logistics
  • Abhinav Kumar Advancing his career with a focus on climate change mitigation and reducing carbon emissions, Abhinav recently was promoted at Linde to help manage hydrogen projects and lead change in the energy industry.
  • Jill Shifflett Following three decades with MeadWestvaco and WestRock, Jill transitioned to a new role as senior project engineer, managing capital projects at Ingevity.  
  • Kenny Eye Shifting from seasonal fieldwork with The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service to management, Kenny recently started a full-time internship with the U.S. Department of Interior.
  • Daley Burns Advancing within the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation alongside XMNR alumni mentors like Mandy Chesnutt, Daley was promoted to manager of Rocky Mountain Regional Programs while a student in the XMNR program. 
  • Najeeb Khan Advancing within the World Bank system, Najeeb recently shifted roles to work as a consultant with the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.

A dynamic and ambitious group of people! 
We’d also like to honor our many XMNR alumni from prior years who have made recent career transitions as environmental and sustainability professionals. Here are a few standout examples from the public and private sectors.  


  • Emily Hansroth Working her way up the corporate ladder, Emily was recently promoted to Director of Sustainability at Lockheed Martin
  • Mack Des Champs Making a subtle shift from environmental to sustainability consulting, Mack now serves as a climate strategy consultant at Quantis
  • Sally Parker Ever on the move, Sally has started a new role as solution delivery lead at Resource Innovations, renewing the promise of energy. 
Emily Hansroth, director of sustainability at Lockheed Martin, presents at the 2022 Verdantix Innovating for Safe and Sustainable Operations event
Emily Hansroth, director of sustainability at Lockheed Martin, presents at the 2022 Verdantix Innovating for Safe and Sustainable Operations event


  • Beth DeNoia-Feliciano Shifting from the UN Foundation, Beth joined the team at Ceres as a senior advisor.
  • Andrew Brenner Advancing in the financial services industry, Andrew recently shifted to the center of the sustainability standards and accounting world as Director of Investment Management Integration at IFRS Foundation.
  • Zach Hoffman Advancing within Rare, Zach was promoted to Director of Global Development. 


Andrew Brenner, Director of Investment Management Integration at IFRS Foundation, speaking at the 2023 GreenFin conference. Source: Greenfin
Andrew Brenner, Director of Investment Management Integration at IFRS Foundation, speaking at the 2023 GreenFin conference. Source: Greenfin

Keeping up with our first cohort
It is very exciting to see so many of the alumni from our very first cohort in 2012 continue to make changes and advancements in their careers. 40% of alumni from our inaugural cohort have made significant career transitions since the start of 2022.

  • Amarilis Beltran Netwall Shifting from the public to private sectors, Amarilis is now Director at BlackRock Renewable Power.
  • Charlene Harper Advancing within the green infrastructure arena, Charlene is senior project manager for Stormwater at VHB.
  • Jenn Truong Advancing within the federal government, Jenn now serves as management & program analyst at NOAA.
  • Tim Calabrese Advancing within the nonprofit and philanthropy sectors, Tim is now senior director of corporate, foundation and government relations at Mass Audubon.
  • Adil Chowdhury Shifting between private and public sectors, Adil has returned to the private sector as global sustainability strategy lead with JLL.
  • Sally Hopley Advancing in the private sector, Sally is now Manager of Enterprise Sustainability at Marvin
  • Maggie Striz Calnin Advancing in the urban sustainability realm, Maggie is Director of Michigan Clean Cities.  
  • Joe Tannery Shifting and advancing within the energy industry, Joe is Vice President for Retail Solar at Sol Systems.

Supporting these students and alumni as they make career changes and advancements and have greater influence in the workplace and impact in their communities is one of the most rewarding parts of being a member of the XMNR community.

Note to all XMNR alumni: The above results are based on a review of LinkedIn profiles. If we’ve left you off the list above and you’ve made a recent career change or advancement as an environmental and sustainability professional, please let us know. We want to hear from you!