By Lindsay Key

Amanda Tai, program coordinator for Virginia Tech’s Master of Natural Resources (Online) Program, is one of the first people that newly admitted students meet on their degree journey. Amanda manages and tracks enrollment, advises students on their plan of study, and assists them with required paperwork along with many other administrative tasks for the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS). With a background in environmental sustainability, higher education, and program management, she brings a notable skill set to the job.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Amanda more about her background and role, and learned some other fun facts as well! (Hint, hint…she is a cat person!)

LK: Can you tell us a bit more about your background and what brought you to CLiGS?

AT: I’ve always had a passion for nature and the outdoors, whether it was camping in the woods with my Girl Scout troop or scavenging a beach for interesting shells and rocks as a kid. This curiosity led me to pursue a degree in environmental studies from Wellesley College that allowed me to examine the history and evolution of the human-environment relationship, consider various stakeholder perspectives, and to develop the skills needed to dig into complex environmental issues.

After college, I moved to Washington D.C. for an internship at an environmental non-profit that focused on forests and wildlife habitat restoration through tree-planting, research, and policy work. I stayed there a few more years in a full-time role, but then took a step away from the environmental field to pursue other interests, so I relate to a lot of our MNR students that have a non-linear career path. 

Returning to the environmental field at the University of the District of Columbia’s (UDC) Center for Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES), I worked primarily on programmatic data collection and leading their volunteer program with urban agriculture projects throughout Washington D.C. What drew me to Virginia Tech and CLiGS was that it combined the environmental subject matter I was interested in from early on through my non-profit days and the higher education setting I was familiar with at UDC.

Amanda Tai picks apples at an apple orchard.

Amanda Tai picks apples near Washington D.C.
Amanda Tai picking apples near Washington D.C.

LK: What is your favorite part of your role?

AT: I really enjoy connecting with the online MNR students and seeing them progress as they go through the program, finding out the various backgrounds and experiences that brought them to the MNR, what their interests are, and what they’re hoping to gain from the program in moving towards their next steps. I like being able to work with students to organize their plans of study in a way that’s most beneficial for their interests and fits into their busy schedules.

LK: What does a typical workday look like for you?

AT: I consider myself a jill-of-all trades at CLiGS. Most of my work is supporting the MNR (Online) program–new student onboarding, enrollment and tracking academic progress, managing and updating student records and plans of study, preparing and submitting student forms for degree and certificate conferral, and managing teaching contracts. In addition to supporting the MNR program, I handle a lot of the center operations and administrative responsibilities like purchasing, processing invoices, and vendor management. I also provide some support to the marketing and recruitment team. A typical day could consist of any or all of the above!

LK: What do you like to do outside of work?

AT: Outside of work, I like being active, so when the weather is nice, I’ll be hiking, biking, and kayaking. I’m also trying to get back into rollerblading! Half of the year, you can find me playing slow-pitch softball in a few rec leagues. Being in D.C. is great because there are so many outdoor festivals and markets throughout the year–there’s always something new to check out.

When I’m not outside, I’m most likely entertaining my two cats–they always seem to like the box the toy came in more than the toy itself! I also enjoy cooking and testing out new recipes.

LK: What advice would you give MNR students hoping to make the most of their experience in the program?

AT: Since the MNR (Online) program is virtual, and communication in general is becoming more and more virtual these days, I recommend that students make the most of their experience by thinking of creative ways to stay connected and engaged with their peers, instructors, and the MNR support team. Because students are not going into a physical classroom, meeting up with classmates for coffee after class, or having other informal interactions that are more built-in with in-person learning, I think there’s significant effort that goes into building an online community. Whether it’s a virtual happy hour, casual Canvas discussion thread, or a local meet-up, building these relationships can help make your experience much more fulfilling than just logging in, working, then logging off. Plus, after building so much virtual connection through their online courses, it’s great when students finally have the opportunity to continue growing those connections in-person during their Global Study experience.