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School of Sustainability News Alumni and Student Spotlights

May 4, 2016

Anna Bettis wearing black-framed glasses and smilingAnna Jean Bettis graduated with a Bachelor of Arts – International Development from the School of Sustainability in 2014. This spring, the Kankakee, Illinois native graduates again - this time with her Masters of Sustainability Solutions.

What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study sustainability?

During my senior year in high school in a marine biology course, there was a small section at the end about environmental destruction in the oceans. Up until this point, I was totally unaware of the massive environmental crisis we faced.

I took it upon myself to read more about environmental problems, from mass extinctions to the shifts in availability of water due to climate change. I was shocked and felt an urgency to be part of the solution. I had already planned to go to ASU, so when I learned that the School of Sustainability was a leader – the first in the nation – I was excited to apply!

What’s something you learned while at ASU that changed your perspective?

Learning that we are currently in the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs – the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet – has changed my worldview. With our short human time scale as a reference, things like species loss may appear to be happening relatively slowly. However, when you use geologic time as a reference, it really grounds you in the bigger picture.

This kind of thinking can be applied to other things, like the extraction of resources or concentration of carbon dioxide in the air. If we want to create a system that is sustainable not only for current generations, but also future generations, I think it’s important to consider how our actions affect our planet’s life support systems on a much longer scale.

How did the School of Sustainability prepare you, personally and professionally?

On a personal level, I now think as a global citizen and tend to see things with a systems lens.

In a professional sense, I believe I am much more competitive in the job market. Sustainability is a new concept for many organizations, and I believe my experience in the applied masters program has positioned me well to integrate its principles in a job setting. The school also helped me identify what types of jobs would be fulfilling to me through its job-shadowing program.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those studying sustainability?

Sustainability is a huge concept and I think studying it is most useful if you have a strong focus area. My advice would be to think about what aspect of sustainability you’re most passionate about and involve yourself in that area early in the program.  I’d recommend incorporating classes from other schools and doing volunteer work in the area that most interests you. This can help you gain skills in your desired field and figure out what you’re most satisfied doing.

If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

One thing I think is at the heart of unsustainable decisions is corporate influence over policy-making. I am not sure $40 million could solve this, but I believe it is important to address because it branches out into virtually every sustainability issue. Our country’s lack of action on climate change and other important sustainability issues, to me, are symptoms of the bigger problem, which is that some voices – namely those with money and power – are represented more than others.

How are you leading the way to a sustainable future?

Being in the Sonoran desert in a sprawling city provides an interesting set of sustainability challenges around water, biodiversity and quality of life. I hope to find a job where I can use my sustainability expertise to help find solutions to some of these challenges. Whatever the future holds career-wise, I plan to keep the bigger picture of global sustainability in mind and think strategically about how to make wiser choices locally. In my social settings, I hope to lead by example and inspire people to live more sustainably.