The key to a sustainable future is education, says Alexandra Fluegel ’23. A Global Supply Chain Management student who works with faculty on a Harvard Radcliffe project, Fluegel has spent the academic year determining how to advance sustainability education in ways that prepare students to fight climate change—while also building bright futures for themselves.
Sustainability is about more than doing good, Fluegel notes; it’s also sound business. To meet the challenge of a planet in need of climate solutions, she points out, companies are creating new roles for implementing sustainability into their operations. “It’s a field that’s full of opportunities for college students,” says Fluegel. “Making sure that students learn about climate education as undergraduates is vitally important because it allows them to begin to work toward climate solutions from day one and even gives them an important leg up in the hiring process.”
“By taking the lead on those issues, you can become a leader in the workplace,” she argues. She’ll be sharing her findings alongside Taylor Vahey ’23, another Bryant student who assists a Harvard Radcliffe Fellow, at Bryant’s Women’s Summit on March 16.
Today’s young people are ready to rise to the occasion and take their place as architects of a better world, says Fluegel, and eager to learn the skills and tools that will aid them in their mission. “There is a real passion for this work among students,” she says.
Fluegel’s own passion was sparked through her Global Supply Chain Management coursework. “As I gained more exposure to the issues, and I began to see how sustainability and business intersected in the real world—through talking with professionals, through networking opportunities, through my classes, and through working with real companies—it all just started to click,” she says.
“One of the most important things that students can learn is that their decisions will make an impact.”
Instrumental in Fluegel’s green awakening was a Corporate Social Responsibility course taught by Professor John Visich, Ph.D., in which she worked with Cisco Brewers to learn more about their sustainability efforts—and even make suggestions about process improvements they could implement. “I feel so fortunate to have taken that class, because it made you really put yourself in the shoes of a real company,” says Fluegel. “And the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make sure that all students have that same experience.”
It was Professor of Marketing and Global Supply Chain Management Michael Gravier, Ph.D., who recommended that Fluegel apply for the Bryant student assistantship associated with the Harvard Radcliffe project, which provides opportunities for students to pursue curiosity-driven research, expand human understanding, and grapple with questions that demand insight from across disciplines. “He didn’t even realize I had developed such an interest in sustainability,” she notes. “He just thought it would be a good way for me to put what I’d learned to work.”
Through her work as a fellow, Fluegel and Vahey, have examined higher education best practices and interviewed Bryant University alumni to better understand the needs of industry and how college students can best prepare to help make a difference. Since sustainability cuts across all fields, she argues, it should she be a required element of every academic program. She also has suggested ways to enhance sustainability-focused education by offering new concentrations and programming in her findings.
Ultimately, real-world-focused exposure is the key, she adds. “One of the most important things that students can learn is that their decisions will make an impact,” Fluegel says. “All of us will be faced with sustainability-related choices throughout our careers, so, understanding how to make those choices and how they’ll interact with the organizations we’re part of is incredibly important.”
Her project advisors are Gravier and Charles J. Smiley Chair Professor of Science and Technology and Vice President for International Affairs Hong Yang, Ph.D. The pair, Fluegel says, bring different perspectives to her research. Gravier, she notes, is a prolific scholar with more than 30 years of industry experience; Yang, a Harvard Radcliffe faculty fellow, is renowned for his environmental research.
“Though I didn't realize it at the time, as my fellowship had progressed, I started to see this as a way to help leave my mark at Bryant."
Together, they’ve helped her understand how to weigh the concerns of business with the needs of sustainability—while also allowing her the freedom to come to her own conclusions. “I’ve learned so much about the science of climate change and the work has allowed me to grow so much as a person,” says Fluegel. “Being part of this this experience has exceeded all of my expectations.”
In addition to completing her fellowship research and finishing a senior capstone project focused on corporate sustainability, Fluegel is also working to organize Bryant’s first Earth Day Symposium on Climate and Sustainability. Scheduled for April 21, the conference will bring together students, academics, and industry professionals to promote climate-related discussion, introduce students to sustainability opportunities, and provide networking opportunities for individuals interested in environmentally consciousness initiatives.
The conference, she hopes, will begin a tradition of insightful discussions that motivate solutions. She is graduating in the spring and joining Dell Technologies as an analyst in the company’s Global Operations Supply Chain Development Program, however Fluegel aims for her work to have a lasting impact at Bryant and beyond.
“Though I didn't realize it at the time, as my fellowship progressed, I started to see this as a way to help leave my mark at Bryant,” she reflects. “I’m hoping to get things started and then future students can take the next step.”
To learn more about Fluegel’s research and the need for sustainability-focused education, click here.