By Kat Boulton (’20), Content Development Assistant with the Office of Sustainability
Sebastian Irby graduated from Wake Forest in 2019 with a degree in Sustainability Studies. She was the first Wake Forest undergraduate student to create an interdisciplinary major focusing on sustainability. She was also an intern with the Office of Sustainability. Sebastian now works as the Programs and Operations Manager at the Environmental Protection Network (EPN), an environmental nonprofit organization based out of D.C.
You were the first student to graduate with a major in Sustainability Studies, did you come into school knowing you wanted to do that?
I came in with a specific focus knowing that I wanted to be in the environment somehow. At the same time, it was very broad in that I didn’t necessarily know where exactly I fit into that and where I wanted to go. I think sustainability is so great because you are able to weave it in to so many other disciplines and interests. After talking with professors I decided to create my own interdisciplinary major which I called Sustainability Studies.
What did you find most valuable about deciding to study sustainability at Wake?
I think being able to find a small and tight-knit community within an already small and tight-knit community. My community being the Office of Sustainability and the professors that I worked with on my major and people who shared my interests under the context of Wake being an already smaller school. I think this allowed me to develop strong relationships with other students who were interested in similar things and also with a lot of professors. This helped me stay really engaged in what I was doing when I was at Wake. Since graduating, I still keep in touch with these people and those mentors. I think it was really valuable for me to have these connections while I was at Wake but has also helped me since graduating.
Where has your career taken you since graduating in 2018?
I currently work for an environmental nonprofit called the Environmental Protection Network where we do policy analysis on changes in the EPA. In particular, I manage the volunteer network by helping with research or editing about different policy changes. I also use the infrastructure we have or the products that we make to communicate with other nonprofits, reporters, and people on the Hill to get this information out to as broad an audience as possible.
Next year, Wake Forest plans to make a major in Environmental and Sustainability possible for students. What advice would you give to undergrads who are interested in pursuing a career in sustainability?
I think it is important to think about how sustainability can be applied to so many different things. When I was looking for jobs I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, but what that really means is that I had a ton of options to follow different interests that I had. The fact that sustainability interacts with so many other job fields really allows you to do work that you are passionate about and that sustainability can be one part of that. I really think that you could work almost anywhere and either be working on sustainability as part of your job when you are hired, or you can work sustainability into any job that you have.
What do you think is the value of adding this course of study at Wake Forest?
I am really excited to hear that there will be a new major for students interested in the environment. It is really lucky that students will now have a broader support network of people through this new major. I think it is great that Wake Forest takes this so seriously because it is so important not only for the sake of environmental protection but also for student opportunities past college.