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Helping Graduates Launch Careers of Contribution
by Melissa Everett

When Monster.com asked its audience whether they were interested in work that makes the world a better place, 27% of these mainstream working adults said yes. Another 41% said they’d love that luxury but felt too economically squeezed to give it much attention. That’s a lot of folks wanting their lives to count for something, and a lot of dilemmas about what’s realistic in these complicated times.

The Sustainable Careers Institute has been formed to help college and university graduates create working lives that benefit their communities and the planet. It will support students in launching careers that blend personal satisfaction with social and environmental contribution, through vocational choices, ethics on the job, and lives of balance and involvement.

The finance major interested in ecological accounting... the economic development student who is fascinated with employee ownership... the climatologist who hopes to help progressive companies reduce their impacts on global warming...these are a few of the students who will benefit from the Institute’s research, counseling, and special programs.

As efforts mount to “green the campus” and provide more socially engaged learning opportunities, the Institute is building a bridge between visionary academic programs and the real world of work. Its primary partners are career development offices on campuses—which are, in essence, “gatekeepers of possibility” for graduates. Programs cover not only work opportunities directly related to sustainable development, but also the potential to contribute to more sustainable modes of economic activity in any line of work, from tourism to food service to banking, in business as well as government and the nonprofit sector. As we serve today’s students and the innovative academic programs that will support tomorrow’s positive social change, we wrestle with approaches to career counseling that encourage social and environmental responsibility in every job decision.

In the 2001-02 academic year, with the support of the Compton Foundation, we are working in partnership with the career centers at two fine universities: the State University of New York at Albany and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Representing an estimated 25,000 students with diverse backgrounds and interests, the selected campuses are sites for developing and testing new programs that can then be shared more broadly in academia and the career counseling profession.

Our major project for the year is to galvanize the community for participation in a Public Interest Career Fair March 6 in Albany. Produced jointly with Action Without Borders, which specializes in nonprofit employment services, this fair will break new ground by adding a socially responsible business section. This all-day event will reach out to employers whose products and services include pollution prevention and resource conservation, energy conservation and renewable energy sources, environmental restoration and management. Cutting edge businesses will have the opportunity to recruit some of the region’s brightest graduates and present their visions of a sustainable future. As we reach out through campus networks to create this special event, we will be providing discussions, speakers, and other resources to classes, student groups, faculty advisors and campus media. This grassroots campaign is designed to raise awareness of ethical dilemmas and opportunities for leadership in every profession, and show that—even in an economic downturn—there are rich opportunities for working lives that make the world a better place.

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