UCLA series logoWhere will the next generation of environmental leaders come from? There’s a good chance that many will be among the 230 seniors in the 2012 graduating class of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, all of whom are getting an interdisciplinary education that prepares them to pursue careers in a wide variety of environment-related fields.

 

“We’re being trained to face a lot of real world problems, not just getting prepared for our first jobs out of college. The program encourages us to work outside of the campus,” says senior Shy Sayadi, who is working with Southern California Edison on an artificial reef-building project designed to mitigate the effects of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station on the coastal environment, and doing lab research on a strain of bacteria that can help clean up contaminated sites around military facilities. “I’m getting experience working from the microbiological scale to the macroscopic scale, and it’s something I couldn’t do anywhere else, at any other university. It’s an incredible opportunity to be involved in so many things in one place at the same time.”

 

Sayadi, who will graduate with a bachelor's degree in environmental science with a minor in environmental engineering, hopes to “get involved with environmental consulting where I can bridge policy and the research aspect.” As one of the directors of the Jazz Reggae Festival, which takes place at UCLA on Memorial Day weekend, he’s “really interested in large-scale event management and I’d like to blend the worlds of events and music and sustainability and science.” His pre-college goal had been to study microbiology, but a stint doing cancer research at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory made him realize he’d rather “be interacting with people and see the tangible aspects of what I’m working with. It’s kind of ironic because I’m working in a lab again but now that I have a very specific and focused idea of what I want to accomplish and that I can see the impacts of my work, it’s really exciting.”

 

With the institute’s broad reach of contributing departments, students are able to study everything from oceanography to environmental policy and governance to classes that cover conservation, atmospheric and oceanic sciences, biology and human systems. “It’s almost like you can curate your own curriculum,” says Sayadi. “You come out with both a broad understanding and a specialized understanding, which is fantastic because you come out very well-equipped.”

 

Two other seniors are also making the most of what they’ve learned at the institute. Both Anuraag Jhawar and Casey Goebel arrived at UCLA from northern San Diego and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, respectively, as undeclared science majors but by the end of their freshman year had joined the institute’s program, both majoring in environmental science. “My minor is in engineering, geared toward sustainability and renewable energy,” says Jhawar. “All seniors take a year-long practicum, and I’m working on hotel sustainability and consumer responses to green practices in hotels.” He’s also interning at Shft.com, Adrian Grenier and Peter Glatzer’s eco-site.

 

Goebel, whose minor is environmental systems in society, “about corporate sustainability with business policy,” is interning at a clean-tech investment group and is working on a vineyard project in the Santa Monica Mountains, using aerial photography and satellite images to map existing vineyards and also “see where they could go so city planners will know what areas will be best for agriculture in the future.” After graduation, “I want to become an entrepreneur and start my own company, a green business,” says Goebel. “I’m hoping to get a job in sustainability or renewable energy for a year or two and then think about going to grad school,” adds Jhawar. He won’t have to go far if he decides to do so. The institute has a graduate certificate program, with 145 students currently enrolled.

 

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This is the third in a five-part series about UCLA’s Institute of Environment and Sustainability. Look for the fourth installment next week.