Our graduating team members share their memories, plans, and advice for incoming students
The Harvard Office for Sustainability (OFS) counts on talented and dedicated students to brainstorm and develop sustainable solutions to real-world climate and health challenges. Together with faculty and staff, undergraduates and graduates use Harvard’s campus as a living lab. Through OFS programs like our Undergraduate Resource Efficiency Program (REP), Student Sustainability Grant Program, Council of Student Sustainability Leaders (CSSL), and OFS Internships, students create and contribute to diverse University sustainability projects.
With the 2020 academic year coming to an end, we are saying goodbye to our graduating team members. In these challenging times, with students completing the spring term from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Harvard will honor the graduating Class of 2020 in a special online ceremony. While we are sad that we are not able to celebrate in person, we asked our graduating students to share their best Harvard experiences, favorite memories, future plans, and advice for incoming students.
“I really enjoyed the session with [OFS Managing Director] Heather Henriksen. It was a privilege to have a candid conversation about Harvard's aspirations and challenges. Moreover, it was interesting to learn from everyone's diverse perspectives on the goals and ways to get there.
I plan to dive deeper into the relationship between design and building performance. Both through research and practice, I want to blend my background in sustainable architecture with my post-professional graduate degree in Energy and Environment.”
“If I had to choose just one favorite memory while working with OFS, I would choose my hood project from junior year. Our hood had so much fun at Monday meetings, and I'll always remember how fun it was to visit each other's study breaks and work together on different campaigns. This project also turned into my independent project, which put all LED motion sensor lights into Quincy. I'm glad I had the chance to make an impact for my house.
Next year I will be travelling to Mexico on a Booth Fellowship to work with clean water and health and sanitation.”
“My best memory with the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders and the OFS is joining a lunchtime conversation with CEOs in the travel and tourism space as part of a program Harvard hosted with the World Travel & Tourism Council. The industry is one that is intertwined with sustainability in so many ways, from carbon emissions to resource usage to human rights, and it was inspiring to learn from its leaders more about how - and why - sustainability should be a core tenet of good business.
I'll be joining Bain and Company at their Boston office as an Associate Consultant and am excited to incorporate my interests in food systems and sustainability both while working there and beyond!”
“My fondest memories from the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders (CSSL) are all the informal conversations that arose over comforting plant-based dinners at the Office for Sustainability, and later while chatting over Zoom after the pandemic-related campus closures. These have been special opportunities to connect with diverse students across our university who share a passion for environmental sustainability, and I am so grateful to be able to learn from and collaborate with my CSSL colleagues.”
“My best memory with the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders and the Office for Sustainability is working with David Havelick and the City of Cambridge to help organize and perform in the city's art department's Untold Possibilities at the Last Minute climate change art exhibition.
In the short term, I am working as a Research Assistant on two climate adaptation projects, songwriting as part of a musical healing project to support Coronavirus patients, and contributing my thesis research on decarbonizing federal lands to bolster Green Stimulus and other just transition efforts to support extractive industry workers.”
“I'm very proud of the Harvard Sustainable Meeting and Event Guide, which I had the opportunity to work on with members of the OFS and Harvard students and staff. It's nice to know that a resource now exists to help everyone across all Harvard schools design campus meetings and events that help employees and students eat well and stay active while reducing their environmental impact.
I will be staying on at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health as a postdoctoral research fellow, so that I can continue my research to make it easier for people to make healthy, environmentally sustainable food choices in places like restaurants and schools.”
“The sustainability work that I am most proud of is dedicating my senior thesis to designing an internal carbon price for Harvard to consider implementing. In designing this climate policy, it was so rewarding to be able to work alongside stakeholders from across the university in order to ensure that many diverse perspectives were being incorporated into the proposal. Next step: working with administration to move the policy forward!
The advice that I would give to incoming students related to sustainability and climate is to cast a wide net early. There are so many angles from which to work on sustainability at Harvard - whether through issues related to food, energy, water, waste, etc. - and there's no reason to corner yourself into just one. Take classes and join student organizations that are working across many of these issues. The only way to find out what excites you the most is to test them all!”
“I will always have a soft spot for the team in Harvard’s OFS! I’ve learned so much from brainstorming together on how Harvard can enhance its sustainability programs and communications, in big and small ways. One of my favorite experiences involved analyzing how Harvard could adapt U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to further its energy initiatives and track different metrics to better understand its waste and energy-related performance.
CSSL provides a great way of understanding how Harvard is tackling sustainability challenges across the University, which can be siloed given the independence of Harvard’s many schools and programs. Harvard University Center for the Environment has also compiled a list of sustainability-related courses that students should check out as a starting point. Professor Wendy Jacobs at Harvard Law School created a Climate Solutions Living Lab [in partnership with OFS] that convenes students from across diverse graduate and Ph.D. programs to scope financially feasible emissions reductions projects. Working on a hydroelectric and pumped solar proposal for an area in Puerto Rico hit hard by Hurricane Maria is among my favorite memories at Harvard. Finally, I would encourage students to branch out beyond technical environmental classes and to expand their negotiations, financing, and policymaking toolkits - those skills seem essential if we are going to address barriers to innovating quickly in the coming decades.”
“For me, the best part about working for the OFS as a REP has been the getting to connect with people throughout the Harvard community. As a First Year REP, I organized study breaks for the entire freshman class, which helped me get to know students I would never have met otherwise. The same was true when I was a REP Captain and Mather House REP. Organizing outreach events with the OFS has helped me break out of the small bubble of my friends and concentration and engage with a much wider, more diverse Harvard community. One of my favorite projects was setting up the Mather House Community Garden, which my roommate and I worked on this year. Putting together the garden and planting the first seeds was a great way for me to connect with faculty, staff, tutors and students throughout the house. I’m proud of the work we put into it, and I hope that future generations of Matherites will be able to enjoy it!!
“I am most proud of my work with Harvard Undergraduate Consulting on Business and the Environment, where I founded the role of Director of Sustainability—the first role in a student organization at the College specifically responsible for ensuring a given organization’s commitment to sustainability. Through this role, I helped to initiate an annual grant program that provides $20,000 in funding to student and community sustainability projects, an annual award that recognizes the sustainability work of high school students around the world, and a semesterly initiative that engages all 80+ members of the organization in local hands-on sustainability volunteer work. It was because of this role that I first joined CSSL, where I had the opportunity to connect this work with the broader university and collaborate across Harvard’s schools on novel projects.
My main advice to incoming students related to sustainability and climate would be that there are many diverse ways to get involved in these areas on campus and you should take the time to consider which avenues for engagement would be the best fit for your particular interests. Beyond that, I believe it is very important to keep in mind that there are numerous ways to contribute to sustainability efforts beyond joining groups and every Harvard student can take daily actions—from avoiding using trays in the dining halls and reducing food waste to altering one’s organization’s purchasing habits to generate less plastic or styrofoam waste—that collectively can have a significant positive impact.”
"During my last semester with REP, I spent time researching Harvard’s scope 3 emissions, specifically focusing on air travel among Harvard undergraduates. I loved being able to choose this as my independent project due to my interest in both travel and the environment. I’m proud to be able to leave that work to OFS as they continue to think about how to reduce scope 3 emissions in the future.
Get involved! I joined the Resource Efficiency Program as a junior and it ended being one of the best things I did at Harvard. If anything, I just wish I got more involved with the amazing sustainability community at Harvard earlier. There is such an incredible range of groups and activities you can do, as well as concentrations and secondaries to explore. Finally, I took the Climate Solutions Living Lab course, offered through the Law School, as a senior, and I would highly recommend applying to take it as an undergrad! It’s a great experience in learning about how to solve real world climate problems while still in school.”
One of my favorite memories with OFS was designing, building, and running a climate change themed escape room for Earth Day 2019. Working with the other student coordinators, we were able to leverage our collective creativity to create an experience that was as fun as it was educational. The escape room was one of the most rewarding REP projects I worked on—I was amazed by the dedication of the REP community to help run the room, and even more astounded by the participation and excitement from the student body.
Later this summer, I'll begin working at Industrial Economics, Incorporated as a Research Analyst, doing environmental modeling and policy analysis for government agencies.”
“I loved getting to know all of the other REPs, whether during the partner study breaks we spent shoving ice cream in front of people in the hopes they would fill out our sustainability quizzes, or when we baked a ginormous amount of cookies for the freshmen in exchange for their sustainability-related questions. Also, a special shout-out to my Hood for making my time with REP truly memorable: Yuki, Bev, and Julia are super intelligent and welcoming, and their passion about all things sustainability is overwhelming!
It is never, ever, too late to get involved and it’s something everyone can do! You do not need to be in a specific group or take certain classes to care about sustainability. I never took a climate/energy/environmental-specific class, and never participated in any environmental-related group until I joined REP as a senior. Take initiative to learn more (OFS or your REP are fantastic places to start). There’s a lot of effort going into sustainability at Harvard and a ton of fun hidden quirks/programs waiting to be discovered!”
“Being a part of the OFS team gave me the exciting opportunity to be at the front lines of sustainability at both Harvard and beyond. Some of my most memorable experiences came from sitting in on visiting sustainability officers from other institutions who presented on initiatives taking place at their campuses and centers.
In preparation for an OFS staff retreat, I was able to conduct research on sustainability plans at peer institutions and companies and summarize my findings in a report that helped the team as it began the process of working with others to create Harvard's next Sustainability Plan. I was thrilled to be able to contribute in a small but vital way.”
“It’s really difficult to pick a favorite memory when REP, as a culmination of events, was one of my favorite aspects of attending Harvard. I cherish every friend and mentor I gained through the REP program. If I had to choose one, my favorite memory from REP is my most recent: playing various games and doing fun activities over Zoom! Having to leave campus prematurely due to the pandemic was extremely difficult to do, especially in my senior year of college. I was worried about what would happen to my communities on campus. I was nervous about our final “Zoom party” since I didn’t know what to expect. Yet it was one of the most fun Zoom conferences I was ever a part of, and I left the meeting with a warm smile on my face. Of course, I wish that the REPs could have celebrated the end of the year in person. Despite that, I feel that that Zoom call was a testament to the wonderful bond everyone in REP had created throughout the year. That Zoom made me confident that the community I have in REP and the level of support we have for one another is not one that solely exists on campus but also lives in the world beyond college. As a graduating senior, that Zoom is my favorite memory because it made me confident that the friendships I made through the program are built to last no matter how far apart we physically are!
One piece of advice I have for incoming students is to take advantage of the events that various organizations host on campus. These include panel discussions, guest speakers, interactive learning events, and more. I feel that for the first half of college, I was so preoccupied with classwork that I failed to partake in many of the more optional learning opportunities. I kept putting off going to these events because I had “too much homework” or I was “too tired to go”. It wasn’t until later that I realized that these events are some of the greatest gifts of Harvard! Some of the most fruitful learning opportunities I had were by attending these occasions. The university attracts a wealth of speakers on every subject matter you can think of. Within environmental topics, I’ve been to events on subjects ranging from wildlife conservation to climate policy to electric vehicle implementation. I’ve found that they are spaces where you can go check something out purely with the intent of learning something new. There’s no need to stress about studying for an upcoming exam or paper. Just immerse yourself in what renowned experts in the field have to say!”