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Field Stories

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

Austin Schultz is a recent undergraduate from the University of Delaware, where he majored in Environmental Science and Energy and Environmental Policy. In the past five years Austin’s academic career has consisted of multiple internships, including GIS and coding, and an environmental entrepreneurship program with the University of Delaware's Horn Entrepreneurship program. Before the rise of the Covid19 pandemic, Austin was an intern at UD’s Environmental Health and Safety program using GIS and surveying in ArcGIS. This experience as well as the multiple coding research positions he had would have aided in his application to the schools graduate program amongst others. Austin aspires to bridge the gap between science, policy, and business in his career and desires to use sustainability, energy policy, and cultural geography to advance his learning and understanding in this career and research field.

From an early age, Austin has had the opportunity to travel around the United States and internationally. Some places include California and Europe with extensive and adventure packed hikes in Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, and Iceland. His admiration for travel became very pronounced during his time at Blue Ridge School, an all-boys boarding school outside of Charlottesville Virginia. In addition to their outdoor education curriculum, Austin was a member of the school’s Art and Outdoors Program and enjoyed many outdoor activities such as canoeing, hiking, and biking across Virginia as well as visiting several art museums and exhibits which inspired him to create several pieces related to nature and cultural appreciation. While attending Blue Ridge, Austin made friendships with students from around the world. It was these relationships that helped him understand how invaluable a global perspective is when learning about and confronting today's biggest environmental challenges. The accumulation of boarding school, travel, and subsequent outdoor projects and artistic programs led Austin to the University of Delaware. He chose to attend UD as an Environmental Science student, but later switched into Environmental Studies after realizing his academic interests and career aspirations were more aligned with this major.

At the end of his third undergraduate year, Austin sought advice from a former professor of Environmental Policy, Dr. Benjamin Bagozzi. The two talked about the field and life while Dr. Bagozzi's words offered encouragement and a new perspective. To Austin’s surprise, the meeting concluded with Dr. Bagozzi offering him a research position doing archival document collection and management for Conference of Parties data, where he reviewed and synthesized academic literature related to global climate change cooperation and delegation, as well professional support to Austin when applying for future internships and jobs. This was a notable experience because UD caters to over 20,000 undergraduate students alone, meaning that class size was only beginning to take place at an intimate level near the end of his third year, which is right when Austin ended up meeting Dr. Bagozzi. Since then, Austin has developed fantastic relations with other professors, including IEA President Dr. Kalim Shah, all who have offered advice and helped bridge professional connections leading up to graduation and beyond. Like many new college graduates, Austin had a few internships lined up for this summer, but these were cancelled because of Covid-19.

He hasn’t however let the uncertainty and world chaos stop him from pursuing what matters to him and has turned his attention to researching graduate schools, and learning more about the implementation of environmental policy in relevance to raw materials sourcing, sustainable infrastructure, and economics; topics that have always sparked his interest. His research on the Conference of Parties with Dr. Bagozzi awarded him an invitation from Dr. Shah to present his findings at an academic conference this September. Unfortunately this too was cancelled, but Austin hopes to create a rubric for the next student to carry out his work on it post pandemic. Austin sees people as lifelong learners, and while world leaders and communities learn more about coronavirus, Austin will be doing his part by advancing his knowledge and giving his time to at home environmental learning endeavors and strengthening his understanding and skills in GIS and natural resource development.

Despite the challenges of distant learning, Austin performed the best he ever has in college, earning a place on UD’s Dean’s List. His professors were very accommodating to distant learning, and while Zoom was a new teaching method for most of them, Austin felt that in many ways the program made learning more personable. As opposed to being in a classroom, where some students are faced with speaking shyness, Zoom made it easier for students to speak up, which in return made class discussions more enjoyable as students appeared more comfortable with sharing their thoughts. Although a part of him wishes he could have finished his last semester on campus, Austin was able to find new opportunities within distant learning and appreciates all his classmates and professors for making the transition manageable.

In light of social distancing, Austin has appreciated the novelty of speaking with friends and family on the phone that otherwise would have declined the dated method. The pandemic has also given him the chance to connect with other people that were not big on phone calls pre-Covid-19, and create stronger relationships with people he did not think he would, like his first ever roommate from boarding school who is from Ghana. Adjusting to social distancing during his last semester of college was very hard, however it helped him learn to be okay with being alone, and for this reason he discovered more about himself than perhaps any other time in his college experience. Additionally, Austin turned to outdoor exploration as a way to alleviate any stress that distant learning caused and hiking gave him the opportunity to connect more with Newark, DE, which he says, to the untrained eye might not look so pretty, but believes that beauty can be found everywhere and in everyone. The future remains optimistic for Austin and his ambitions continue to grow with each passing day. In addition to pursuing a master’s, Austin dreams of working for a company whose mission he can stand behind and where he can help their business meet ambitious sustainability goals and initiatives, or perhaps work as an eco-entrepreneur leading the way in the implementation of environmentally-inclusive business practices or green consulting. Wherever he ends up, Austin is thankful for the experiences that got him to where he is now and looks forward to taking on new adventures and roles in the ever-expanding field of environmental studies that he has grown to love.

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