Interview by Claire Tucker, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Office of Advancement
Shannon Oliver, B.S., Environmental Health, ‘06
From ski bum to school sustainability work, Shannon Oliver converted his love for the outdoors into a career. He is using his CSU education in Environmental Health to improve schools for students, teachers and staff in the Adams 12 Five Star school district north of Denver.
Finding his path
“I was first attracted to sustainability because of my love of being outdoors. I was a ski bum in Colorado for three years before attending college and was fascinated with the water and energy issues that arise in mountain towns.
“When my advisor at Colorado State University suggested the Environmental Health program, I knew it would be a fit. I liked the generalist nature of the degree, with classes and projects that allowed me to think broadly about environmental issues through many lenses and from many places.
“One of my most memorable experiences was my senior internship with the U.S. Public Health Service in Gallup, New Mexico. In a rural place like Gallup, health and access to resources is so important. I realized then that I wanted to help people make their space healthier, no matter where they lived.”
Setting long-term sustainability goals
“I am now the Assistant Director of Energy and Sustainability for Adams School District 12. Schools are unique places and present challenges when you look to run them sustainability. This job is amazing because I get to work on so many of those different challenges including: compost, sustainable materials, lighting, grounds, irrigation, planning new spaces, technology.
“My biggest project over the last year has been writing a sustainability plan for the district. I have been able to engage and learn from faculty, staff, and students about so many areas of sustainability. We now have long-term goals and metrics for water, waste, energy, and student/community engagement that will guide decisions for years to come. I see any impacts from this plan as having double benefits. One, we save some money on resources and two, we get to spend that money elsewhere to improve our students’ experience.
“There are two big issues I hope to solve in my time with the district. First, I would like to get LED lighting into classrooms. The environmental impact is very real and the cost savings are quick. But with five million square feet of school space, it is still a lot a money to make the switch. I would also like to implement solar energy or other renewable sources within the next five years. This would make a significant difference on our energy savings and on our vision of sustainability to pass along to students.”
Advice: Think about how you want to work
“As a student, I know it is easy just to focus on the specific area in which you want to work. But I think it is really important to also consider the way you want to work. Do you want to collaborate? Do you want to have a lot of control over your environment? Do you want to dive deep into one project or always have irons in many fires? I realized that my strength is engaging with people and talking about big issues. Just about any job task can be learned, but the larger framework and working environment around the job task is really what contributes to professional satisfaction.”