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What Are the Benefits of Pursuing the Undergraduate Certificate?

Ginny Lee | June 1, 2021

For Hannah Hall, growing up in Southern California meant frequent backpacking and camping trips in the Sierra Nevada mountains. From an early age, she was consistently surrounded by nature, making it something she always cared deeply about.

Hall is currently a class of 2022 student pursuing a journalism major at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and creative writing minor in poetry, as well as the Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy Undergraduate Certificate. The Undergraduate Certificate provides undergraduates with an opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary instruction in the fields of sustainability and energy. The certificate is open to any undergraduate student at the university to petition and consists of seven core courses and electives that span areas such as natural science, engineering, and the social sciences.

Hall’s interest in the Undergraduate Certificate was inspired by an Earth science class she took as a first-year student, which motivated her to learn more about protecting the natural environment. “I didn’t know I was going to take that deep dive into sustainability and energy and Earth science and the environment but that class kind of set me down that path,” says Hall. The following year, she learned more about the Trienens Institute as a marketing intern for Renoster, a tech startup focused on protecting wildlife that was founded by Northwestern alum Saif Bhatti (class of 2020), which was sponsored by the Trienens Institute. Working with Institute advisors gave her further insight into the Institute network of alums and exposure to the diverse array of career paths in the fields of sustainability and energy. Hall officially began pursuing the Undergraduate Certificate during the fall quarter of her junior year.

Regarding the interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum, Hall states, “you get such a well-rounded education in all the different fields within sustainability and how those can be applied to different career paths and different skill sets”. As a journalism major, Hall is interested in reporting on conservation and environmental justice. Through Trienens Institute courses, she has been able to strengthen her skill set in doing so by learning the history behind such topics and expanding her ability to understand global issues regarding energy and sustainability and conservation.

Hall also appreciates how Institute classes bring together students from multiple fields and majors. She notes that though she does not hail from a hard science background, she enjoys taking class alongside fellow students who do and greatly values learning from her peers in addition to the faculty.

Through the Certificate, Hall has also had the opportunity to interact with Trienens Institute alums. As a journalism major, she has spoken with alums in the environmental reporting field and gained mentors through Institute professors and staff. Being part of the Institute network has also allowed her to gain more insight into the opportunities available in this rapidly growing field. “Every person’s path is going to be different — I think that’s what makes it so fun. But it’s also so helpful to learn from what other people have done,” says Hall. In addition to the skills learned in class, she believes that the network and professional application have prepared her for future internships and job opportunities.

Hall’s favorite experience with the Undergraduate Certificate has been the independent study she pursued during this past winter quarter with the Building Material Environmental Guide (BMEG) – a Trienens Institute project that has brought together researchers from various disciplines to create a database and decision tool aimed at encouraging the use of sustainable materials for disaster reconstruction and resilience.  Her work on the BMEG involved researching the intersection of gender equity, social inclusion, and sustainability in disaster relief. To achieve this, Hall worked with leaders from both the Trienens Institute and World Wildlife Fund, a founding partner of the BMEG project. “I had the ability to have a really awesome professional development experience through that opportunity. With the Trienens Institute, I feel like you can really make things your own,” says Hall.

For students contemplating the Certificate and students that are currently pursuing it, Hall recommends reaching out to the Institute staff. “They want to help students find what they are passionate about,” advises Hall. She also encourages reaching out to other fellow students taking the Certificate courses to get a glimpse into their different experiences. She also emphasizes the importance of staying curious. “I think that ability to stay curious is really helpful because you never know what you’re going to find when you’re pushing yourself to learn something new”.

So far, the Undergraduate Certificate has not only supplemented Hall’s interests and enriched the experience of pursuing her major, but it has also opened up opportunities for professional development, gaining insight into the possibilities that lie within the field of sustainability and energy, and finding new passions along the way. Regarding her experience as an Undergraduate Certificate student, Hall states, “It’s been so formative to who I am becoming in college.”