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Sustainability certificate helps students create green careers

When a UC-wide MBA emphasis focusing on corporate environmentalism was canceled two years ago, Professor Charles Corbett knew UCLA had lost a valuable program.

"It had been suspended rather abruptly, and we had grad students entering UCLA, in part for that program," Corbett recalled. "So I said, 'Why not have one on our campus?' Initially, it was just getting something together quick and dirty."Students turn sustainability schooling into green jobs.

Now two years later, the "quick and dirty" pilot program has flourished into the Leaders in Sustainability certificate, a four-class series open to all UCLA graduate students who are interested in adding this increasingly important focus to their resumés. The certificate program boasts a solid and growing stable of course listings, and a wide-ranging core class will be introduced in winter quarter.

Corbett, a professor at the Anderson School of Management and director of the program, teaches the popular "Business and the Environment" class, and notes that the certificate isn't just about tackling a pressing problem. It also looks good on a resumé.

"The students find that it's helping them more and more in interviews," Corbett said. "A couple of our graduates went to the World Resource Institute in D.C. Some go straight into an environmental job, while others took a conventional first job, but were quickly promoted to more environmentally driven jobs."

Corbett also emphasizes the importance of getting grad students to take classes outside their main field. The certificate program requires students to take at least two sustainability classes outside their home department. That not only gives them a broader understanding of sustainability, but also forces them to learn to talk with students from other fields and consider new perspectives.

"For instance, say you understand environmental law, but you can't have a coherent conversation with an urban planner or a scientist. It's harder to be effective," Corbett said.

Classes range across disciplines: green energy entrepreneurship, environmental politics, sustainable architecture, environmental economics and more.

Nurit Katz graduated with the certificate in addition to her MBA and master's in public policy in June '08. She not only helped create the program, she also parlayed her experience into becoming a UCLA staffer, first as the program coordinator for the Center for Corporate Environmental Performance, and now as the campuswide sustainability coordinator.

"What's neat is the program is a complement to student's regular degree, so they don't have to pursue a separate degree," she said. "And it definitely helps prepare them to become leaders in their field."

Some of her fellow students have taken jobs in environmental law, nonprofit consulting or affordable housing. At first glance, many people don't associate fields like affordable housing with sustainability, but that's because they're only thinking about the environmental component, she said.

"Sustainability is about the integration of the environment, the economy and social concerns," Katz explained. "It's about how you meet the needs of future generations without compromising our needs today."

As part of the Leadership in Sustainability program, she traveled to Mexico and consulted for Mattel on what indicators the company should rely to measure their sustainability. Other students have worked on micro-finance projects in India and on drafting parts of L.A.'s climate change plan, Corbett said.

"Students have fantastic ideas about how to tackle these problems," Corbett said. "If you put them together, they do great things."

Learn more about the Leaders in Sustainability program by reading up about it online, or contact program director Professor Charles Corbett.