Meet Master of Sustainability Leadership alumna Sydney Lund

A native of Southern California, Sydney Lund had been taught to be environmentally conscious from a young age. But it wasn’t until her undergrad that her passion for sustainability was awakened.

“During undergrad, I started formally learning about sustainability themes within the classroom where I became extremely passionate about the subject and received a certificate in sustainability leadership,” Lund said. “After graduation, I went to teach English in Costa Rica.”

It was while teaching in Costa Rica that Lund decided to dedicate her career to creating sustainable communities. She decided to apply to the School of Sustainability and was accepted. This May 2020, she is graduating with a degree from the Master of Sustainability Leadership program. In the following Q&A, learn more about Lund, her passion for sustainability and her remarkable capstone project.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

A: I grew up in Southern California and went to Southern Oregon University (SOU) for my undergrad, where I studied business with a concentration in marketing and a crtificate in sustainability leadership. I found my passion for sustainability while I was in undergrad, where I worked at SOU’s Ecology and Sustainability Resource Center as a student director while holding several other sustainability-related on-campus jobs. After graduating, I went to Costa Rica, where I taught English as a second language in a bilingual elementary and high school. In my free time, I enjoy being outside and exploring nature, going indoor rock climbing, and baking. I am currently learning Spanish and trying my hand at vegetable gardening on my patio.

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability?

A: Growing up I was always environmentally conscious; my family and I composted, we would recycle, I learned to not waste resources, and we spend a lot of time outside camping or going to the beach. During undergrad, I started formally learning about sustainability themes within the classroom where I became extremely passionate about the subject and received a certificate in sustainability leadership.

After graduation, I went to teach English in Costa Rica. Halfway through the school year in Costa Rica, I decided to apply to the Master of Sustainability Leadership program because I knew that I wanted a career where I would be working every day to create a more sustainable future. To me, sustainability is the most important issue of our time, and I wanted to dedicate my career to working to create communities that were sustainable and resilient.

Q: Why did you choose the Master of Sustainability Leadership (MSL) program?

A: Arizona State University had a variety of master’s programs focused on sustainability and environmental themes that interested me. The reason that I chose the Master of Sustainability Leadership program was that it focused on both the social science and physical science aspects. I liked that the bulk of the courses were broke down into four main threads around sustainability, which includes leadership, communications, global context, and structural sustainability. This set up interested me because the threads were focused on the science of sustainability and also on the social sciences as well. Since I intend to be working with the public on behavioral changes and structural fixes around sustainability, I appreciated how this degree was focused on communication and leadership skills, along with the hard skills.

Q: What’s been your favorite part of being in the program and why?

A: I had never taken an online course during my undergrad degree, so I was a bit nervous about taking an entirely online master’s degree. However, I found that the online set up allowed me to pursue other opportunities and gave me a lot of flexibility. While studying, I was able to work as the Transportation Demand Management Intern for the Colorado Department of Transportation, which allowed me to apply the practices that I was learning within the classroom to real-world situations. Additionally, over the 16 months of my master’s degree, I moved from California to Colorado and spent three months studying in Spain and traveling around Europe between class sessions. Moving and my studying while traveling abroad would not have been possible under a typical in-person degree program.

Q: Are there any particular classes or nuggets of information that have stuck with you or inspired you?

A: One of my favorite classes that I took was an elective class titled “Measuring City Sustainability.” Through this class, we worked with the City of Peoria, Arizona on the city’s Climate Action Plan and STAR Report. This was a hands-on class where we were tasked with coming up with solutions and recommendations to meet Peoria’s Climate Action Plan. Since I would like to work within the public sector at the city or state level, this class was very interesting because I was able to gain experience working on a city’s Climate Action Plan, which is something that I imagine myself doing within my future career.

Q: Can you tell us about your capstone project? What inspired you to do the project?

A: For my capstone project, I created the Sustainability for Young Learners Courses, which are second through fifth-grade science unit plans that incorporate sustainability themes into the Next Generation Science Standards. After doing research, I found that only half of the Next Generation Science Standards in elementary school included sustainability themes. Therefore, I created the Sustainability for Young Learners Courses to teach sustainability themes such as composting, waste reduction, where energy comes from, energy efficiencies, and plastic pollution through the required standards. I worked with Denver Public Schools (DPS)  to develop this curriculum for DPS elementary school teachers by incorporating DPS’s Sustainability Goals into the unit plans. However, the unit plans were designed to have a national reach and can be used by second through fifth-grade teachers throughout the United States.

My time teaching English abroad in Costa Rica inspired me to create this capstone project. While in Costa Rica, I was able to teach students about sustainability themes during the morning circle time, however, I found that formal sustainability education was lacking. I came back to the states and I wanted to know if the standards had changed since I was in school to encompass sustainability themes. I found there was little mention to sustainability within the standards. Children are our future businesspeople, CEOs, government officials, and decision-makers. Therefore, I wanted to make sure that elementary students were receiving sustainability education within the classroom, in order to make informed, sustainably minded decisions today and in their future careers.

Q: How do you envision applying sustainability to your future career?

A: I am very interested in working in the sustainability field at the city or state level within the public sector. I would like to focus on alternative transportation issues, waste reduction and diversion tactics, and behavioral changes around sustainability themes.

Q: What does sustainability mean to you?

A: To me, sustainability is about working to create a society that is socially and environmentally sustainable for current and future generations to live and thrive. Sustainability is making sure that humans have clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, clean and natural food to eat, and quality education. It is ensuring that natural landscapes are preserved for animals to live within and for current and future generations to enjoy. Sustainability is about living within our means to make sure that future generations can sustainably live on Earth without the threat of global warming, extreme heat phenomena, or dead oceans. In short, sustainability to me means thriving both socially and environmentally to ensure that life thrives on Earth. There is “No Planet B,” therefore, we need to take care of our Earth for future generations.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?

A: Whenever I tell someone about what I am studying, I usually get asked questions about what the program is like and what is sustainability leadership. The field of sustainability is relatively new, yet it is growing rapidly as businesses are starting to see the need for embedding sustainability into their organizations to be able to continue to operate in a hotter, more connected, and competitive landscape. As the sustainability field is growing and becoming more prominent, I am excited to have been educated about sustainability leadership from ASU, to help progress sustainability projects and programs on a local and state level.