Environmental Resilience

Studies in sustainability span careers

UNC Asheville has long held a commitment to environmental conservation and sustainability, from cultivating campus gardens to energy efficiency measures in campus buildings to incorporating conservation into classes across the curriculum. It’s a calling many students take with them beyond the university and into their careers. 

Paul Beaton '02Paul Beaton ‘02 took his passion for energy and environmental policy to Washington, D.C., where he now works as senior program officer at the National Academy of Science—an independent advisory body for the U.S. government.

“When there’s a matter of science or science policy that there’s some question about, that the government wants an independent and reasonably objective answer about, they come to us,” Beaton explained.

The two projects Beaton is currently working on were requested by Congress and the Department of Energy, respectively. Beaton guides the projects from start to finish, assembling teams of the world’s leading science experts to address questions like the impact of tax policy on greenhouse gas emissions. The entire process can take anywhere from nine months to three years.

“There is nothing better you can do to prepare for this kind of job than get a really high quality liberal arts education,” Beaton said. “The thing that’s important about what I do is that I have to have a level of confidence that I can undertake any challenge that’s given to me, no matter how new, and I can learn what I need to learn in order to do it … and use good, creative, liberal arts critical thinking and problem solving skills.”

Beaton’s job involves asking a lot of big questions that don’t have easy answers, like how to create policies and laws to accelerate wide-scale adoption of clean energy technologies. But Beaton knows asking those questions is important—a value he learned in Professor of Chemistry Bert Holmes’ class years ago. “The thing that Bert emphasized again and again in his courses, he’d say, ‘I’m going to ask questions of you; I hope you’ll ask questions of me. Only a questioning mind can learn.’”

Katie Hicks '09Anna Lange's ’08 passion for the environment took her across the country and back again, from her first job with Green Corps that put her on the cutting edge of building a clean energy economy in cities like Chicago and San Francisco, and back to the east coast, where she served as sustainability director in Richland County, South Carolina.

During her time as sustainability director, Lange helped pass a comprehensive sustainability policy for the county and the region, and reduced the county’s energy use by 10 percent.

“Today I serve as the recycling market development manager for the South Carolina Department of Commerce,” said Lange, who was one of the students that launched UNC Asheville’s Student Environmental Center in 2007. In her current role she tracks the economic impact of the recycling industry, and connects with companies to find buyers for waste products that would otherwise end up in the landfill. She also focuses on capturing food and organic waste for commercial-scale composting.

“The most rewarding part of my job is being the gatekeeper that creates new supply chains and moves us closer to zero waste,” Lange said. “In nature waste equals food, I get to work with businesses to rethink what is going to the landfill.”

Katie Hicks' ’09 passion for protecting drinking water plays out right here in Asheville, where she’s assistant director of Clean Water for North Carolina (CWFNC). Her love for local ecology was ignited by an internship at the Cradle of Forestry in Transylvania County, and by her professors in the Environmental Studies Department.

“There were—and are—so many wonderful educators in the Environmental Studies Department, most of them with an infectious interest and love of the ecology of the southern Appalachians,” Hicks said.

As the assistant director of CWFNC, Hicks writes grants and promotes fundraising, conducts research on issues affecting drinking water in North Carolina, and works on outreach and presentations to the public to advocate for policies to protect drinking water. “Clean Water for NC’s mission is to promote clean, safe water and environments and empowered, just communities for all North Carolinians through community organizing, education, advocacy and technical assistance,” Hicks said. It’s a job that gives her lots of opportunities to use her science background, as well as skills developed in her second major, Spanish. “Trying to advocate for clean drinking water in the crazy arena of state and local politics can be infuriating at times,” Hicks said. “But at the end of the day, it’s really rewarding to be able to work on such an important issue of protecting water for the public good and fighting to clean up sources of contamination.”