Green groups attract student interns

Organizations like the Sierra Club help students network for green jobs.

Like most students, Mallory Carter came to the University of Minnesota wanting to make a difference. But to her, that didn’t mean joining the Peace Corps .

She found environmental science, a major she felt would always be interesting and relevant, and began searching for opportunities to apply her knowledge outside of school.

“Environmental science was just logical, something we’re always going to need,” said Carter, a junior.

She landed a Sierra Club internship, which led to a fellowship with the University’s chapter of Campuses Beyond Coal, an organization that works to reduce the University’s dependence on coal as an energy source.

While some college students face dire job prospects upon graduation, students involved in environmental initiatives like the Sierra Club find it’s a good networking opportunity for future employment.

In 2010, Minnesota employed almost 70,000 workers in sustainable positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Green Goods and Services survey. About 2.5 percent of Minnesota job vacancies from fall 2009 to spring 2011 were in green jobs.

Green beyond the classroom

Working with a green organization can prepare students for employment in any field, said Joshua Low, organizing representative for the Sierra Club’s North Star chapter in Minneapolis.

“An internship, whether it be the Sierra Club or another environmental organization, can be a very valuable thing on a résumé,” Low said.

This was the case for Jason Bender, a doctoral candidate studying aerospace engineering and mathematics who completed his undergraduate degree at Cornell University in 2008.

When he came to the University of Minnesota in 2010, Bender looked for ways to become involved on campus. An information session for Campuses Beyond Coal compelled him to volunteer with the program’s research committee. In subsequent semesters, he took on leadership and advisory roles with the student group.

Though Campuses Beyond Coal didn’t relate directly to what he was studying in graduate school, participating in the group made him a more active citizen, Bender said.

“I think it’s a great way to improve communication skills, for one — a great way to see different perspectives on an issue,” he said.

Working with organizations like this can prepare students for life after college more than academic work alone, said Christy Newell, a sustainable studies and art senior and a Sierra Club executive committee member.

“The job market’s really uncertain for everyone,” she said, “and it’s really cool to be able to come together, especially with other young people who are finding [themselves] in the same position with a bad economy and student debt.”

Newell’s initial involvement with the Sierra Club led her to numerous jobs and networking opportunities — from helping children instill sustainability in their communities with the Minnesota Youth Environmental Network to mentoring students at the Will Steger Foundation.

“I think that it really shapes what I think of as success,” she said.