By Lindsay Kuczera

Susan Apollonio is a Leadership and Career Coach for the Executive Masters of Natural Resources (XMNR) program where she assists students with evaluating their individual career needs and goals. By examining what environments they thrive in, what sparks their excitement, and what inhibits their ability to communicate effectively, students in the XMNR program have the opportunity to transform their careers while receiving interdisciplinary graduate education.

From being a student to coaching students
Susan, an XMNR graduate herself, came to the program as many other students do—without a hard sciences background. She discovered that the program welcomes students from diverse cultural, educational, and professional backgrounds, and embraces the value of those differing perspectives.

Susan’s interests in sustainability and contemporary art led her to work closely with designers and landscape architects. Upon seeking additional training and education in this field, she came across a blog post on the Virginia Tech Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS) site, where an XMNR student described their experience in landscape architecture. This sparked her excitement, and she decided to apply for the program. “I definitely felt under-confident in my knowledge of sustainability… but when I got into CLiGS, I quickly realized that you don't need to be a hard scientist or have specialized knowledge. Working in sustainability is really about making sure that you can communicate and that you can influence and bring people together to solve complex problems,” said Susan.

Career coaching teaches us that our uniqueness is powerful
The XMNR program is an accelerated graduate degree program for professionals that takes place over three semesters within one year, and has a final individual development project that each student presents to the cohort at the end of the program. For Susan’s project, she interviewed leaders in the sustainability field, one of which was an executive coach for Fortune 500 companies. She was enthralled to hear how coaching can support people as they come into their own powers, and address the things that hold them back and prevent them from communicating authentically and sincerely. That conversation sealed the deal. Susan then became certified as a professional coach so that she could work more closely on leadership development in the field.

When Susan joined the XMNR program as a career coach, she dedicated herself to helping students realize that everyone is unique, and your lived experience has just as much to do with your ability to be successful as your education does. Susan works with XMNR students who are interested in looking at their career holistically to figure out how they want to redevelop or grow in skillset and career.

Catering to individual growth
Students in the XMNR program learn about a wide range of environmental sustainability systems, including climate, water, food and agriculture, energy, and more, while developing a broad spectrum of leadership skills and executive core qualifications. The coaching services focus more closely on the individual development portion of the curriculum, customizing learning to each student’s needs. The fact that this is built into the curriculum—if students decide to participate—is what sets this graduate program apart.

Coaching services can sound intimidating, but it’s simply about building self-awareness and knowledge. Its focus is supporting the students to create opportunities to dig deeper into the topics that are most meaningful to them—whether it’s water, global food systems, agriculture, etc. By building toward this larger-scale field work or research, they create something that they can use as a deliverable, a resume builder, or a career advancement tool.

Susan Apollonio

Susan believes that “we all have different work styles, different ways to give and receive information.” By investing in students to help them develop on a personal level, their careers and work can truly thrive.