Paul Strauss remembers the day his life changed forever. He was in Taos, N.M., where he’d been staying the summer of 1970 with Carl, a Shoshone Indian who had taken him under his wing to study natural medicine.
Wanting to take his career as an environmental consultant in a more serious direction, Brian Higgins shopped around the Midwest for a degree program that had all the elements he needed—an interdisciplinary approach that would blend his different interests, and a network that would lead to a good job.
He found both with the Master of Arts in Urban Sustainability and Resilience, one of eight new graduate-level degree programs Xavier is introducing in 2014 and 2015. It didn’t matter that he and his wife lived in Greensboro, N.C. He arrived in time to join the first cohort last fall. Before the first semester had ended, however, he not only had his summer internship lined up with a dairy partnership, but a full-time job offer as well.
“It’s fantastic,” Higgins says. “I was fully expecting to go through two years and then look at opportunities that presented themselves, but who am I to turn down an opportunity that presents itself and continue my education at the same time?”
For students like Higgins, such educational programs offer a chance to keep up with changing career fields—and even come out on top.
“These are areas where people can continue to expand their professional development or enter into new fields of growth,” says Roger Bosse, director for graduate services. “We’re responding to changes in society and trying to bring the quality of our education into these budding fields.”
Both Sustainability and the Doctor of Educational Leadership got underway last fall. The others are being rolled out in 2015. They meet Xavier’s long-term goal of strengthening the quality of its academic offerings by expanding learning opportunities for graduate students.
Those new opportunities are what attracted Higgins, who as a landscape architect and environmental consultant has a background in the environmental and sustainability fields. In one of his first classes last fall, Kroger’s head of sustainability came in as a guest lecturer. They struck up a conversation, and she ended up recommending him for the internship.
By January, he was juggling business trips with schoolwork. He’s managing a pilot project for a dairy trade group and Kroger, creating a partnership with a dairy farm that uses an anaerobic digester to recycle waste. These machines are already in use processing manure into methane gas and usable products. The project involves adding food waste to the mix and transforming it into even better products—fertilizer, compost, garden products and methane gas to be converted into a form to power vehicles.
“My job is to focus on developing an initial pilot project with Kroger and then see where the partnership between Kroger and the dairy makes sense, because Kroger has an interest in reducing food waste in the landfill,” Higgins says.
Higgins’ early success is music to Liz Blume’s ears. As coordinator of the Sustainability program, she says Xavier responded to a growing interest in sustainability among businesses, non-profits and government and created a program “that prepares sustainability professionals with the skills to create integrated solutions to environmental issues.”
Xavier’s is the only sustainability program in the region that is cross-disciplinary, bringing together the fields of urban studies, business and the hard environmental sciences. Courses cover urban systems, urban history and ecology, politics, land use, statistics, economics, geographical mapping, communications, business management and philosophy.
The two-year program is designed to attract people from those various fields who will then benefit from each other’s expertise. The first class of five students will finish in spring 2016, but Blume thinks she’ll have around 10 new students enrolling this fall as word of the program spreads.
“Every corporation in America wants to create a green bottom line, which means delivering products more cheaply and in a way that does less damage to the environment,” Blume says. “They need smart people who know how to do those things, and our grads are those people.”
Ethics and values have always been part of the Jesuit curriculum. But does it make a difference? Associate professor of theology Elizabeth Groppe would argue that it does. As proof, she offers this story of what happened to her this spring:
“I was driving my 5-year-old son to his Suzuki violin lesson. It was a busy week, my husband was out of town and I had many things on my mind—one of which was not keeping an eye on the gas gauge. We hit empty on Interstate 75 North in the middle of rush-hour traffic. I coasted to the shoulder, put on my flashers and tried to reassure my son, who was in tears, that we would not be stuck on the side of the road forever. I tried to flag down a passerby, hoping to borrow a cell phone to call our emergency road service.
“Hundreds of cars went by. Finally, a gentleman in a red pick-up truck pulled up in front of us. He said I was welcome to use his cell phone but suggested it would be simpler to allow him to help me get some gas. The Good Samaritan, it turns out, was a Xavier alum, a graduate of our MA program in criminal justice, named Jason Fowee. He enrolled in the program after discharge from the military where he performed search-and-rescue missions. He helped me transfer my son’s car seat to his truck and tried to help John David feel comfortable by sharing photos of his cats.
“Jason drove us to the nearest gas station, insisted on filling a plastic gas can himself to spare me spillage, and then called the police to ask them to please get someone on the scene to ensure that we could safely refuel the car and move John David between vehicles in the midst of heavy traffic. When we returned to my stranded car, the police were there with lights flashing. My son and I returned safely home thanks to a Jesuit man-for-others.”