After working at the University of Arizona’s Laboratory of Tree Ring Research, current Master of Science in Sustainability Management student Ruth Penniston joined the program with the intention of helping to bridge the gap between scientists and the rest of the world. Recently, Ruth began an internship at a sustainable fashion company, Modavanti, where she communicates her passion for the environment through advocating for sustainable fashion choices to the consumers. She strongly believes individuals should be given options for a more sustainable lifestyle and be educated about the benefits these options entail.
1. What is your current job and what are the responsibilities associated with your position?
I recently began working as an intern for the sustainable fashion startup company, Modavanti. Modavanti is a small but growing company, which gives me the opportunity to help out with a huge range of things, from writing copies for their new website to coordinating events. I love it because everything I do with them basically boils down to communicating my passion for the environment with people and explaining what fashion has to do with sustainability.
2. What drew you to the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program?
I had the good fortune as an undergraduate to work under Michael Evans in an amazing paleoclimate tree ring lab at the University of Arizona. It was a crazy experience, because I was 18 and was working with world-class climate scientists. What I realized when I left the lab however, was that the amazing work that we were doing was being completely ignored by the broader world. I wanted to bridge the gap between scientists and everyone else. The MS in Sustainability Management seemed like that best way to do that.
3. What do you think is the most important sustainability challenge and what do you intend to do professionally once you achieve your degree?
Energy is by far the greatest sustainability challenge we face, but that is not what I’m personally passionate about. People tend to raise their eyebrows when I mention that I’m super excited about sustainable fashion, because there are clearly more pressing issues within sustainability. Fundamentally, however, I’m interested in empowering individuals and giving them options to live more sustainably. Global warming is a huge and terrifying problem, which causes many people (including myself in the past) to just check out, because it feels like there is nothing meaningful that individuals can do. However, that’s simply not true. When sustainable options are available and people are educated about its benefits, a lot of people are interested, even if it means paying more. We’ve seen this with organic and local food. I hope to do the same with sustainable fashion.
4. What is your favorite class in the MSSM program so far and why?
I LOVE Lynnette Widder’s Responsiveness and Resilience in the Built Environment course! It is challenging because you’re forced to critically think about issues in sustainability, while working on projects that integrate, not only what you’ve learned in Lynnette’s class, but all your classes and past experiences. It is very discussion based as well, which is amazing, given the different backgrounds and opinions of the students in the program. It’s this class that I find myself thinking about on the weekends, because the projects and readings are so thought provoking.
5. What tips do you have for your fellow students who are looking for a job in sustainability?
I landed my internship by emailing the company directly. They didn’t have any open positions when I emailed them, but I was so excited about what they were doing that I couldn’t help myself. I’ve never done or even learned in class most of the things that I’ve done at Modavanti, but my passion and excitement was so apparent in my email and through the subsequent interviews, that they gave me an internship anyway. Learning new things on the job has been easy because I’m excited about Modavanti and what it takes to help them grow. My advice: find the niche within the sustainability sector that you’re really passionate about and get good at conveying that passion in person and in writing. Also, it is really easy to email companies, even if they don’t have a job or an internship posted. The worst that will happen is that you never hear from them again, in which case you wasted a few minutes. On the other hand, you might get an amazing job.
The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Continuing Education, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. The program requires the successful completion of 36 credit points. Those credit points are divided among five comprehensive content areas: integrative sustainability management, economics and quantitative analysis, the physical dimensions of sustainability, the public policy environment of sustainability management, and general and financial management. Visit our website to learn more.