Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 71.94
Liaison Dennis Cochrane
Submission Date Dec. 19, 2017
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.1

Virginia Tech
IN-26: Innovation C

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 1.00 / 1.00 Angie De Soto
Campus Sustainability Planner
Office of Energy and Sustainability
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Name or title of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:
Sustainability Boot Camp (co-curricular training program for undergraduate students)

A brief description of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome that outlines how credit criteria are met and any positive measurable outcomes associated with the innovation:

Today’s college graduates are looking for jobs that align with their sustainability values, while employers want new hires to have practical, hands-on experience. Industry leaders seek graduates who are trained in a specific discipline or skill set, but also can work across business lines to develop creative solutions to complex sustainability challenges. This education gap is where the 10-day Sustainability Institute Boot Camp training model thrives. Our curriculum is based on employer feedback, every problem-solving activity results in real value to an organization, and our top priority is creating pipelines for employment between our partners and our students.

This innovative, “pre-onboarding” education model is connecting classrooms to workplaces to proactively train a sustainable workforce. There are four elements that differentiate the boot camp from other sustainability education programs – letting employers drive the content, teaching sustainability as a lens for problem-solving, mimicking a workplace, and creating employment pipelines.

Letting Employers Drive Training Content

Before the first training was held, the institute’s Director met with over 200 sustainability professionals, including chief sustainability officers (CSOs), senior directors of sustainability, sustainability managers, and program and/or project managers in sustainability offices across a variety of industries and sectors. The guiding question was: What do entry-level hires need to know before they graduate to contribute to your sustainability program? There are shared definitions of what “sustainability” is, but these individuals held vastly different perspectives on what it means to them in their position and organization. The goal was to understand what sustainability competencies and professional skills were most attractive to them as potential employers. What’s unique about this is that the Boot Camp was designed specifically around feedback gathered during these educator-employer conversations rather than being internally driven by faculty members.

Teaching Sustainability as a Lens for Problem-Solving

The underlying philosophy of the training is that sustainability does not need to be a student’s major or even a word in their job title for them to have a positive impact in the world. We teach sustainability as a way of seeing the world and an approach to solving complex, interdisciplinary problems. Anyone can be a “sustainability professional” based on what questions they ask and factors they consider when making a decision in the workplace. This is why we’ve engaged students from over 60 different majors at Virginia Tech to date.

We teach students how sustainability principles can be applied to entry-level positions in their discipline (i.e. construction, marketing, engineering, economics, chemistry, etc.) – a “sustainability lens” for problem-solving. Questions asked and factors considered can vary considerably based on the field, problem at hand, situational context, organizational priorities, economic constraints, etc. The Boot Camp workshops and Think Tank Challenges are designed to put students in a variety of different scenarios to cultivate a flexible sustainability lens that can be applied in any position, organization, or sector after they graduate.

It is important to note that the training was not developed with the intention of students entering positions in sustainability offices upon graduation. Those positions are few and far between, and we feel that organizations can be more effective with a decentralized approach that engages all of their layers and units from top to bottom. This is an important distinction and not an approach that most higher education institutions are taking.

Mimicking a Workplace

The primary goal of the Boot Camp is to prepare undergraduate students to enter the workforce. It is designed to mimic a workplace and immerse them in a professional environment. The two-week training is 8 hours a day and students are required to dress in business casual attire and call each other colleagues. The classroom is rearranged to look like an open floor plan workplace with team work stations and students are constantly working in different groups during activities. The first week prepares students for three days of travel during the second week where they network, problem-solve, and pitch ideas to potential employers on site.

Creating Employment Pipelines

The Think Tank Challenges and expert panels are intentionally crafted to connect students to organizations that share their values, and to connect sustainability professionals to students who might be successful entry-level employees for their organizations. Most Think Tank Challenges result in a semester or summer internship project for top performing Boot Camp students.

Which of the following impact areas does the innovation most closely relate to? (select up to three):
Public Engagement

A letter of affirmation from an individual with relevant expertise or a press release or publication featuring the innovation :

The website URL where information about the programs or initiatives is available:
Additional documentation to support the submission:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution and complete the Data Inquiry Form.