Perspectives on University Green Career Paths

Perspectives on University Green Career Paths


By Linda Mansdorf


With all of the changes going on in the world due to the changing climate, we are seeing the need for skilled and educated workers in new fields.  In this panel session, a number of university Career Fair Exhibitors provided an interactive discussion session to find out more about their offerings for students and professionals, geared to attendees who are seeking to start a green career or to advance their green career.  This panel took place at the Resilient Virginia 2021 Conference and served as a prelude to the following day’s 8th Annual Green Jobs Forum and Career Fair with Leaders in Energy.  The panelists are listed below along with a summary of the session highlights.  The panel took place on August 25, 2021.



Janine Finnell (Moderator), Executive Director, Leaders in Energy

Dr. Edward Saltzberg, GWU, Director, Professional Education, Environmental & Energy Management Institute

Dr. David Robertson, Virginia Tech, Founding Director, XMNR & CLIGS programs

Amy Hubbard, Virginia Tech, Program Coordinator & Student Advisor, XMNR & CLIGS programs

Dr. Cody W. Edwards, Associate Provost for Graduate Education and Executive Director, Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation (SMSC) at George Mason University

Dr. Christopher J. Mordaunt, John Tyler Community College, Energy Technology Program, Certificate & AAS


Session Highlights

Janine Finnell, Executive Director of Leaders in Energy kicked off the University Green Career Paths session, welcoming representatives from George Washington University (Dr. Edward Saltzberg), Virginia Tech (Dr. David Robertson and Amy Hubbard), the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation at George Mason University (Dr. Cody Edwards), and John Tyler Community College (Dr. Christopher Mordaunt).

The panelists gave short presentations on their school’s programs including coursework, certifications, and career planning.  This included the progression from education into green careers – offerings for both students and professionals – either starting off, changing careers, or seeking advancement in their current career.  Most of the programs had a wide variety of students and were geared to either working professionals (or recent graduates) and offered practical competencies and strategic connections (as well as hands-on real world experiences).  Each explained how their coursework prepares students for professional roles in the industry.

Each program had something different to offer: Dr. Salzberg detailed George Washington University’s Environment and Energy Management Institute (EEMI) certificate programs comprised of short courses (on energy systems and resilience) designed for busy professionals (who can take 4 months to complete a course).  The focus of the coursework is a systemic approach – to raise the level of understanding of the importance of energy resilience to the future of an organization and how the underlying energy network drives resilience in the outcomes.

Dr. Saltzberg explained how the systems approach looks at all aspects of energy resilience – food systems, water systems, etc. all interact with each other (without good water, food, etc. you don’t have good public health, etc.).  The coursework helps prepare working professionals to be better energy leaders, advisors, decision-makers, investors, regulators, and educators.

Amy Hubbard and Dr. David Robertson gave a presentation on Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) and Climate Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLIGS) programs.  The program is a hybrid format (75% online, 25% in person; 11 class weekends, and a 10-day global study trip).  Students range in age from their 20s to their 60s, with varied backgrounds and experiences; and there is a cap on the number of students at 35 students per year.  Career consulting and professional networking are built into the coursework.  The focus is on leadership and communications competencies, peer-to-peer learning, individualized attention, career coaching (students can customize their learning experience), as well as providing access to its robust professional and alumni network.  The school also offers an early admissions scholarship coupon of $1,000.

Perhaps the most unusual learning experience was that offered by George Mason, giving hands-on conservation biology training for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students, and professionals at the internationally renowned Smithsonian 3,200 acre campus in Front Royal, VA.   Dr. Cody Edwards explained how students learn by working with renowned professionals from all over the world – scientists, educators, administrators or animal keepers who teach/run programs.  The focus is on working with practitioners (as opposed to. lectures).  Begun in 2012, the program is a partnership with George Mason and the Smithsonian (Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation). Students go on to graduate school, create their own sustainable farms or other enterprises, go on to work with scientists, researchers, and academics or work in other sectors directly related to conservation and sustainability. Students gain real-time conservation experience; some students work with organizations (NGOs) that go on to hire them (students are doing hands-on work needed by the organizations).  Notably, Jane Goodall has taught at the school.  There is a wide variety of levels of coursework, from summer programs, High School, undergraduate, graduate, professional and conservation internships (which often lead to jobs in the conservation sector).

Dr. Christopher Mordaunt presented on John Tyler Community College’s Energy Certificates and Engineering Technology Programs.  The programs are G3 eligible (a program for any Virginia resident who qualifies for in-state tuition and whose family income falls below an identified threshold) – publically funded to prepare students to fill an increased number of green jobs in Virginia.   Currently, there are opportunities in local and state-wide industries.  Dr. Mordaunt said there is a tremendous growth in energy sector in general, and Virginia in particular is experiencing rapid growth in renewable energy applications.  Students can take college courses in high school and get college credit; the programs get local companies involved and give students hands-on experience.  The college’s energy programs prepare students for roles as energy systems installers or maintenance personnel and energy system technicians. Another program leads to an associate degree in an energy specialization.

A few takeaways from the session included: the fact that new jobs exist today that did not exist even three years ago.  There is a current greening of business and a corresponding growth of choices in green education. Young people now expect to have multiple jobs/careers over their working life (perhaps as many as 14).  School is no longer linear and certificate programs are popular.  However, credentials and degrees don’t necessarily lead to a job.  For this reason, Virginia Tech’s XMNR, and the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLIGS) program focus on career coaching working with students one on one.  Networking is important.  Sometimes jobs can be created for job-seekers; workplace and workforce have both changed – portability is important to the new workforce; school programs have shifted to accommodate new paradigms and students’ desire for autonomy and flexibility (their expectations and experiences are different than in the past).

Dr. Saltzberg mentioned giving students the “banana without the peel” – getting right down to what is needed for a professional career in the new energy economy.  In various ways, all the schools are developing leaders for systemic change, yet their approaches were unique.  This was perhaps best summed up by Dr. Mordaunt:  “There is a success story for every student.”



Linda Mansdorf serves as the Director of Volunteers for Leaders in Energy. In addition to an MBA from Pace University in NYC, she holds a certificate in Conservation & Environmental Sustainability from Columbia University and is an LEED Green Associate. An accomplished professional, Linda has prior experience as a business analyst in the pharmaceutical industry and in academia.

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