In our “Where Are They Now?” series, current student interns interview former interns about their experience at the Office of Sustainability, and in particular how that experience has helped them since graduation. In the following entry, Nina Delgadillo relates her conversation with Breana Nehls.
Breana Nehls was an intern for the Office of Sustainability from her sophomore year in 2013 to her graduation in 2016. At the time, the intern program only had three teams—Communications, Events, and Operations—and Breana participated in all of them. She worked most closely with the Events team, where she got the opportunity to collaborate with different entities on campus, such as the Wisconsin Union, University Housing, and various academic offices.
As Breana was part of the earlier group of interns, much of the work she and her fellow interns did became the foundation for today’s Green Office and Green Events certification programs. Breana was also a critical part of developing the field trips that are now a regular part of the internship. Today, these include tours of sustainable buildings on the UW–Madison campus and visits to the Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant.
When asked about the most impactful part of her internship with the Office of Sustainability, Breana said that the Office “empowered me and invested in my professional development to make sure that I was comfortable and confident with going across campus.” Without the support of everyone in the office, she explained, she would not have known how the campus operates and would not have had the confidence to go out and make a change.
During her time as an intern, Breana was able to see the UW–Madison campus through the unique lens of the Office of Sustainability’s projects and programs. This lens allowed her to delve deeper into her relationships with University Housing, with which she worked closely throughout her internship. Breana’s partnerships with Housing eventually led to a full-time position after graduation as the Housing Sustainability Coordinator. For three years, Breana worked in this position, where she was responsible for analyzing sustainability metrics across campus and communicating where she could improve them.
Because of her work with the Office of Sustainability, Breana developed a passion for sustainability that she continues to utilize in her professional career. After working for University Housing, Breana moved on to a position with EarthHero in Colorado, where she “focused on making conscious consumerism the norm.” At EarthHero, Breana was able to help various groups and organizations buy eco-friendly products and ensure that the items she helped to sell were long-lasting and reusable. She then decided to pivot her focus away from adapting to the consequences of climate change and towards active solutions to solve climate change. She found a position with a company called the American Society of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP), where her main goal is to connect and support work on climate change in the field. One of the strengths of this company, Breana said, is “the diversity of our members.” Through this job, Breana can actively connect with both individuals and organizations and ensure that they have all the resources they need to combat climate change.
Breana’s advice to people looking to work in sustainability is to focus on a project they love working on. Once you find that project and develop that passion, it will lead you to a community working on the same thing. She says that from there, the community will tell you what they need. She also says never to be afraid to ask questions and learn from the people around you. One of the most significant pieces of advice she offered for students is to engage with people who are doing work that you want to do and learn from their real-world experience. Although Breana has now graduated and moved on to her professional career, she will always be grateful for her time at UW–Madison and her work as an intern and how it has prepared her to make a change in the world.