November 12, 2019
A native of Columbus, Ohio, Arizona State University sophomore Jackson Schiefelbein has always been driven to help others. So when he discovered the School of sustainability and ASU invited him to visit, he jumped at the chance and the rest is history.
"Upon learning of the School of Sustainability and the diversity of its offerings beyond environmental science, I knew this was the place for me," Schiefelbein said. "Thanks to ASU's generosity in inviting me to visit and providing significant support through scholarships and other resources, I was able to commit to making the move to ASU."
Since starting at ASU, Schiefelbein has fully immersed himself in the culture: working for Project Cities, getting involved in Sun Devils for Fair Trade and becoming a change agent in Changemaker Central. Read on to discover more about Schiefelbein and his experiences at ASU.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Answer: I'm from Columbus, Ohio where I began my journey to sustainability through activism. In high school, I led my school in a walk-out in solidarity with the Parkland, Florida students in support of stronger gun control measures, advocated for racial equity through my school's Black Empowerment Club, and led/founded a statewide youth activism platform called State of Ohio Youth Activists (SOYA).
While local activism and social justice advocacy through these things was a large part of my life, I knew I wanted to continue my work on a global scale. I participated in the statewide Ohio Model United Nations organization, eventually establishing a standalone program for my school district to participate in after complications prevented our students from representing ourselves at the state level. Along with this, I volunteered at a local nonprofit store selling fair trade goods from around the world to support sustainable international development initiatives. These experiences informed much of the work that I do now, both in class and during my free time.
Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability?
A: I realized I wanted to study sustainability when I began my college application process. I had always known I wanted to go into an environmental field, and while I appreciate the work of environmental scientists and their importance in informing the field of sustainability, I wanted to focus more on the social and cultural implications than the scientific ones. Upon learning of the School of Sustainability and the diversity of its offerings beyond environmental science, I knew this was the place for me.
I often think about how different my life could be right now had ASU not reached out to me and provided me the opportunity to attend through SOS scholarships, Barrett awards, and the Next Generation Service Corps — had it not been for these things, I would probably have had to go to school in Ohio, preventing me from gaining the invaluable experiences I have had here.
Q: What’s been your favorite part of being a School of Sustainability student?
A: My favorite part of being a SOS student is that I am constantly surrounded by passionate, motivated individuals who want to make a difference in the world. These are the type of people who inspire me to do more, and I'm very grateful to call them my peers and, more often than not, friends. Sustainability students are oftentimes highly involved on campus and work to support each other — not a day goes by where I do not see my SOS friends doing work and supporting each other through our initiatives in class and on campus. We understand that we are all working towards a common goal, despite doing so in very different ways.
Q: Can you tell us more about your work for Project Cities?
A: I work for Project Cities as a Marketing and Social Media Aide. I began late in the spring 2019 semester, so I am very excited to be able to work with the program this fall and support its functions as it connects students and faculty, with communities around Arizona to address challenging sustainability issues. My regular responsibilities include managing the program's social media platforms and website, advertising our courses and events, and composing blog posts to capture our work, as well as support in any other ways I am needed. It is a great opportunity for me to gain professional working experience as a student, and even better that it's within the field of sustainability.
Q: How do you envision applying sustainability to your future career?
A: While I love studying sustainability, I have realized that the way I believe I can have the greatest impact in the world and through my career is by not working within the normal realm of sustainability alongside other sustainability professionals, but rather by applying my knowledge of sustainability to another area of expertise where it is not normally present. This is why I am pursuing my second major in Global Studies. I would love to work for an international organization such as the United Nations to support sustainable development practices, as well as work on development policy and sustainability as a means of supporting human rights advocacy.
Something I find particularly intriguing and important is the idea of how sustainability is a western concept that can potentially come across as culturally insensitive and as associated with globalization, as a result. One of the ways I believe sustainability is best practiced and achieved, however, is through localization of lifestyles and support of local cultures and cultural autonomy. I am very interested in learning how to strike a balance between globalization and localization for the sake of sustainable development, and would love to work for an organization or company that supports me in doing so.
Q: What does sustainability mean to you?
A: My idea of sustainability seems to change almost on a daily basis. At the moment, I would say it is the process of connecting individuals to their historical roots and traditions to foster a lifestyle centered around culturally respectful yet modern changes in habits that align with the prosperity of the natural environment to continue to support human life without barriers to opportunities and resources.
Q: Why did you get involved with Sun Devils for Fair Trade?
A: I became involved in Sun Devils for Fair Trade because it supported what seems to me to be one of the most effective sustainable development initiatives I have heard of. After volunteering at the fair trade nonprofit store back home during high school, I was excited to find an opportunity to continue my advocacy for ethical consumption and production practices to promote sustainable development.
Fair trade promotes not only environmental sustainability, but an array of other initiatives that contribute to it, such as gender equity, access to education, no child or slave labor, fair wages for workers, and capacity-building for those who work within the framework of fair trade certifications.
Along with supporting the idea of fair trade, I was eager to join the club when I learned about the work it had done to help ASU become the largest fair trade university in the United States. Working with the small but mighty group of students leading the campaign for ethical, empowering consumption and production practices last year provided me countless opportunities I am very thankful for. I am now honored to be the President of Sun Devils for Fair Trade and a member of the national Fair Trade Campaigns Southwest Region Leadership Team, as a result of working with the club. We have big things in store for this year and the future of fair trade at ASU!
Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?
A: Along with everything else I've shared, I am also involved in Changemaker Central as a Change Agent. This means I work for the student organization to help support programming and events we have that support student social change initiatives both on and off-campus. I love the organization and the people there and would highly encourage anyone to reach out to me or learn more about it. On top of this, I also intern for the City of Phoenix's Office of Sustainability. It has been a great experience thus far learning about how government works and how to apply my knowledge and skills as a sustainability professional to a real-world job experience.
Another thing is that in following my dreams to work for the United Nations or another international organization, I am the Advocacy Chair of the United Nations Association at ASU, meaning I conduct the outreach for the ASU chapter of the national United Nations Association to grow public support on campus and in the Phoenix area for the work of the U.N., particularly the Sustainable Development Goals. With this, I have had the amazing opportunity to become a United Nations Millennium Fellow. This Fall 2019 semester, I am one of just over 1,000 students from 16 countries and 69 universities around the world participating in a leadership and capacity-building program to support a social change initiative geared towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
My project is called the Ethical Procurement Campaign at ASU. I recognized that while I love and dearly support fair trade, it has its faults, as does nearly every sustainability solution. The idea behind the Ethical Procurement Campaign is to convene many different student organizations, departments, and experts on campus from various backgrounds related to sustainability to create an overarching Ethical Procurement Policy that will govern the sourcing of products at the university, impacting nearly 200,000 people in total if it is successful.
It goes without saying that I have a lot on my plate. While I love being busy like this and am very passionate about all of the work that I do through these different experiences, it is important to share that I do wish I had a little bit less to manage. There is only so much you can handle while maintaining a high level of performance and quality of work. That being said, I would love to have people reach out to me if they have any questions, want to know more about what I do, or just want to be friends!