Published December 24, 2020
Sustainability Assistant: A Student Job that Makes NYU Greener
At NYU, sustainability is a priority for students and for our whole community. Every year, the NYU Office of Sustainability hires student sustainability assistants who run peer-to-peer events that promote sustainability on campus, write for the Sustainablog, and help the team at the Office of Sustainability continue to work toward NYU’s sustainability goals.
“It’s a great role for someone who’s eager to learn, think creatively, and be part of the inner workings of NYU,” says Sophie Golomb, a Manager at the Office of Sustainability. And she would know: she was a sustainability assistant at her undergraduate institution. Then, she worked as the Outreach and Education Coordinator at NYU’s Office of Sustainability while pursuing her Master’s in Environmental Conservation Education at NYU Steinhardt. Now, as a manager, a big part of her job is working directly with the sustainability assistants. “Any student, regardless of their major, can apply!” she asserts.
What Is it Like Being a Sustainability Assistant?
The sustainability assistant job is dynamic and changes constantly. They have the opportunity to work on different projects based on their interests, and Sophie’s goal is ensure that they’re engaged, inspired, and constantly learning. “They get to work with such a diversity of people and see the heart of what makes a university run,” says Sophie.
Sustainability assistants also work across different areas and departments, teaming up with administrators, building managers, energy engineers, and custodial staff. They also work with people in student affairs, dining and residential services, and admissions. “Additionally, we work with faculty and instructors who teach in sustainability-related departments,” says Sophie. “And of course we also collaborate closely with students in committees and through clubs.” Working with so many people and groups means that two skills all sustainability assistants exercise from day are communication and teamwork.
Making an Impact and Exploring the Field: Current Sustainability Assistants Weigh In
For B. Eni Owoeye, a Presidential Honors Scholar at College of Arts and Science (CAS) pursuing a double major in International Relations and Environmental Studies with a minor in Spanish, being a sustainability assistant is an opportunity for advancing justice. “I wanted to be a part of the institutional efforts to promote sustainability and environmental education around campus,” says B. Eni. “Because as someone who approaches sustainability from an environmental justice realm, I wanted to add that perspective to the conversations we’re having.” Her favorite part of the job has been helping different people discover their role in building a sustainable and just future. “There is definitely a lot of flexibility in the projects we pursue, whether it is supporting educational opportunities around campus, working with student groups on initiatives, or documenting the efforts NYU makes.”
For Tess von Kleist, a CAS student majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Politics, being a sustainability assistant is a natural extension of exploring her interests. “I love seeing what NYU is doing for sustainability, and a lot of the job is doing research and seeing how we can learn and improve,” Tess explains. “It’s empowering to take part in helping your own school be more sustainable.”
Additionally, Tess has learned about many opportunities at the Office of Sustainability. “They offer students, professors, and others Green Grants to do projects related to sustainability. It makes me feel really proud to work here. Plus, I get to see all the cool projects firsthand!” What’s more, Tess has also built a personal network of collaborators and mentors. “I’ve met so many fantastic, interesting, and important people in the world of sustainability. They inspire me to want to work harder and do better.”
Professional Experience for a Career in Sustainability
“While I was at NYU, I wanted to gain professional experience in the environment and sustainability,” says Siya Piparsania. She graduated from CAS in 2017 with a major in Environmental Studies and minors in Business and Anthropology. “Becoming a sustainability assistant was the perfect opportunity. Working in a team, conducting research, tackling large-scale sustainability problems—these were valuable skills I honed,” she explains. “I also represented the Office of Sustainability at NYU’s events and fairs. There, I practiced communicating about climate and environmental issues to a public audience. As I have progressed in my career, I have understood the importance of such skills, especially when working on an issue as complex as climate change.”
After graduating, Siya spent two years on the communications team at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Being a sustainability assistant really helped me gain experience in a professional setting prior to graduating. I also learned about the ways a sustainability office can implement initiatives at a large institutional level,” says Siya. Currently, she is pursuing a Masters in Environmental Management at the Yale School of the Environment. While there, she is also a research assistant with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications. Her goal is to deepen her knowledge of financial and strategic management and work in corporate sustainability or consulting in the future.
How to Get Involved
“We know that the climate crisis demands widespread and rapid attention. This requires the cooperation and coordinated efforts of governments, industries, institutions, and individuals,” says Sophie. Luckily, NYU is leading the way as a model for other universities. “In my time working for the Office of Sustainability, I have seen such momentum. NYU is slashing greenhouse gas emissions through improving our buildings, pushing for policies that reduce waste at the source, and enhancing educational programs that raise awareness and inspire critical consciousness. It’s been so exciting to be part of these efforts.”
There are so many different ways to get involved in sustainability in college. It’s really a matter of what you’re looking to do. But in most cases, if you reach out to the Office of Sustainability, they will be able to point you in the right direction. You can sign up for the sustainability newsletter to stay up to date on opportunities to get involved. Also, consider joining a student organization or taking a class to learn more. And of course: look for job opportunities.