Environmental Sciences Alumni Spotlight: Heather Troutman

Each semester, the Environmental Sciences Academic Program highlights alumni who represent the diverse and involved alumni population that graduated from our program. This semester the spotlight focuses on, Heather Troutman.

Name: Heather Troutman

Heather at Wolfpack Welcome Week 2013

Graduation Year: May 2014

Focal Area: Sustainable Design

1. How did your experience at NC State help you find a job after graduation? What initial steps did you take when you were looking for a job?

My active participation in clubs and undergraduate research granted me the necessary strong letters of recommendation that one needs to acquire competitive scholarships and acceptance into even more competitive graduate study programs.The Career Center is a great resource.  They offer a variety of training workshops; I recommend participating in as many as possible.  Career Fairs are obviously ideal when looking for internships or potential employers, but the real, hidden value of a career fair is the opportunity to practice giving your two-minute-elevator-pitch on why a company should hire you.  There are golden tricks on how to interact with others, control your body and verbal language, as well as interpreting how potential employers react to your resume, which is crucial for optimizing the content you include.  At first, trying to “sell yourself,” so to say, can be an anxious, clumsy and very uncomfortable endeavor.  My advice, keep doing until it is “second-nature.”

Possibly most importantly, start your search early.  Still now, I spend about 10-hours-per-week looking through job portals and related databases for different opportunities.  In my experience, one finds the most interesting things when they look through the lens of curiosity, as opposed through the lens of anxiety.

2. Did having a degree in ES and your focal area open the door to more opportunities than you initially expected?

When I entered the Environmental Science Academic Program at NC State I realized that it was a decision that was going to influence the rest of my life, but I could never have imagined to what extent.  I never imagined that I would be at a High-Level United Nations delegation on Housing and Sustainable Development (Habitat III) in Prague discussing with the Secretary General on the importance of high-performing waste management infrastructure as an indicator for sustainable development.  I could never have imagined skyping with the President of Unilever Indonesia about developing a program to reduce marine litter inputs resulting from their product line.  There are so many delightful opportunities that are now my daily norms that I could have never imagined only five short years ago when I enrolled into the Environmental Science program at NC State.

3. If you decided to not continue your education upon graduation, do you plan to return to school? If yes, what do you plan to study?

I am currently in the thesis period of my Master’s of Science degree in Resource Efficiency in Architecture and Planning at HafenCity University Hamburg, in Germany.  It is very likely that I will eventually pursue a PhD in a topic pertaining to strategic visioning (likely at the corporate level) or international delegations in sustainable development.  I plan to obtain practical experience in both of these fields over the next 5-10 years before returning to academia.

4. Name a class you took at State that you took the most away from?

Well, this is an impossible question to answer; I took dozens of amazing courses that broaden my horizons and knowledge base.  Just like the natural systems that our livelihoods depend upon, the anthropogenic systems and the interaction between the two (really, the very many) are enormous, complex and intertwined.  Environmental Scientists and all change-makers in our rapidly transitioning world must expand their understanding of the systems at play resulting in environmental and social degradation, but also signaling great opportunities for innovation.  For me, this was the beauty of the Environmental Science program at NC State: it is holistic.  We learn to back-up and think big; to evaluate and differentiate between social, political, environmental and economic pressures, and — most importantly — to understand which of these pressures are influenceable, and which are not.  For example, we can not do much to change the carrying capacity of our natural resources, but we can do much to sustainably manage these resources within their understood capacities.  In direct contrast, economic solutions in the past have often been focused narrowly within current economic structures of (short-sighted) returns on investments allowing the majority of natural capital costs to be externalized.  Many theories and business practices have shown that changing such antiquated definitions offers much greater potential for positive change than to simply optimize the current playing field.  One must see how the varying systems interplay to know which lever to pull.

My advice, stay broad.  Certainly find your niche and gain expertise, but don’t lose sight that everything is a system.  You almost never treat a headache by looking inside of the brain; most of the time you just need a glass of water.

5. While you were at State what was your biggest challenge (e.g. A class)?

Poor time management and over-extending myself were the joint root of my greatest struggles while studying.  I was working 30+ hours a week, first in a restaurant and then in a research firm; and participating in 5 clubs and associations, all with leadership roles; and taking 5-6 classes a semester, several of these with labs.  It was way too much!  I would get completely stressed out, under perform, and sacrifice my physical and mental health to keep up with my commitments.

What did this teach me?

Learn your limits.  Don’t feel obligated to support an initiative if you just don’t have the capacity at the moment.  This is, for me, especially challenging when the initiative is inspiring and conceptually an idea I really support.  But, this is life.  There are countless activities happening all over the world that are inspiring, but one person can’t do everything.  Spend your first semester(s) trying new things, but then focus.  If you start feeling worn-down, eliminate some obligations, at least for a brief period of time.   I do not mean to allude that success doesn’t require occasional sacrifice, but success is a more diverse intangible than grades and awards.

6. What major piece of advice would you give to the Freshman class?

Get involved in community activities.  Try volunteering, join WESA!, write for the Technician, learn how to cultivate organic crops at the SOUL Garden, join an athletic team, meet people who look and act completely differently than anyone you have ever encountered.  A new beginning is a time for change – make it a positive change.  College is not just about getting a degree, it is about expanding your horizons and discovering yourself.  My most genuine advice, take care of your mental, physical and spiritual health.  Being away from home for the first time can be an anxious and lonely time, especially if you are studying in a foreign country and culture.  Keeping focused on your health in an integrated fashion will optimize your capacity to function: you will be more motivated, have better concentration, create more meaningful friendships and an unforgettable time in your life.

7. Why did you decide to be a part of the ES program? What attracted you to it?

Frankly, Dr. Winner, the Director of the Environmental Science Academic Program, is the reason that I chose NC State.  I knew that I wanted to study Environmental Science as it is the most engaging and most applicable field for our transitioning global economy and politics, and certainly my innate skill-set.  The question, for me, was which university to chose.  In-state was preferred for financial reasons, but there are a handful of ES programs across North Carolina.  I organized an appointment with the Academic Director of each and interviewed them.  I explained my skills, background and needs, and allowed the Director to explain to me how their program could prepare me to achieve my life goals.  Dr. Winner was the most successful candidate, by far.  We made an agreement that, with his support, my time at NC State would be packed with new and lucrative opportunities to expand in every possible way.  In return, I agreed to give nothing but my best in sincere pursuit of success.  I believe we both upheld our ends of the deal beautifully.