Wednesday, May 16, 2012

College and career advice to a parent

This is a letter I wrote today to the parent of a prospective student. I think the information I gave reflects well on the quality of our small degree program in sustainable energy.

Any identifiers have been redacted.

Dear Mr                     :

I'll have to be somewhat discrete about protecting the students' identities with the information you seek, because, as like most colleges, we follow federal FERPA rules about disclosing student data. But here you go:

There were only two students graduating Saturday with the Sustainability Design and Technology major.

(Which major will become Sustainable Energy Management this fall. I can fill you in on the improvements if need be.)

The small numbers reflect the small size of the major. I believe last time we connected there were 14 students total, not evenly spread among years 1-4. I think we were down to 13 before graduation. The one drop-out was a first year who failed to attend classes. We'll only get one additional first-year, first time (FYFT = 18 year old) student this fall, but we also usually pick up some transfers and non-traditional students, so I expect to maintain total numbers in the teens next year. The program is more popular with mid-career transfers and non-traditional students than it is with FYFT students. Our growth target is for 20 to 25 students for now, which would give us some critical mass without triggering expensive fixed cost faculty and facility additions.

Of the two who most recently graduated, both of whom came in as FYFT students four years ago and are now therefore 22 years old, one will go to a small energy auditing company in a major city. This student interned with this company last summer and they took the student on as a working partner.

The other 2012 graduate is bound for graduate school in environmental policy, most likely in some quantitative area of climate policy, but is taking a year off and has gone to work for the "PIRG" system.

This is a well-worn pathway to an environmental policy career. The various state PIRGs run canvas-and-lobbying operations which generate income, which they use to hire a large seasonal stable of canvassers and junior lobbyists. There's a revolving door with graduate school for PIRG members.

That student will be working on an energy/climate campaign for a state PIRG. I can't tell you which state.

That makes the percentage of 2012 grads employed in their field 100%, but with such small numbers, percentages are somewhat meaningless.

Here's the complete run-down of all graduates of the program over all time:

2010: One graduate, now married and stayed with their old job for financial/family reasons

2011: Three graduates:

  • One is a sustainability coordinator for a Maine college and attending architecture school
  • One is an independent building contractor
  • The third will attend law school this fall in environmental law
2012: Two graduates:
  • One a working partner in an energy auditing firm
  • The other working for a state PIRG, will eventually attend graduate school in environmental policy

This isn't one hundred percent working in their field, but I think it a very reasonable level of career success. The most satisfying metric is that fully half will attend graduate school. These are competitive graduate schools, too. I can't give you the schools because the numbers are so small, you'd be able to figure out the students' identities, but they are very good schools.

One thing you should tell your student is that, for the better paid, most secure jobs in this field, graduate school is probably helpful if not necessary.

There are some well-paid options at the bachelor's degree level, if the student is willing to be entrepreneurial.

If a student is less academically inclined and not keen on graduate school, we tell them that a good fall-back career is as a household energy auditor. Even here in relatively impoverished Maine, auditors earn around $500 per audit. Industrial energy auditors are also modestly well-paid, can find work with a bachelor's degree and some additional certifications, and are required to be less entrepreneurial, since they can find work with large industrial service corporations such as Siemens or Johnson Controls. There is also fairly high demand for institutional sustainability officers and sustainability coordinators.

Hoping this meets with your satisfaction,

Mick Womersley
Lead Faculty,
Sustainable Energy Management

Sent: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 10:22 PM
To: Doug Fox; Mick Womersley
Subject: RE: Sustainable Energy Management Degree

Hello Mr. Fox,

Do you have any data on the percentage of students from this year's
graduating class that have landed jobs in the sustainable energy field?



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