By PARKER BROWN
Photography by AMY CHAPMAN BRAUN
Environmental issues today can be complex, crossing many legal, political, economic and health fields, and requiring a multidisciplinary approach to finding solutions.
To prepare themselves for these challenges and to get the most out of their education, some Nicholas School students take advantage of concurrent degree programs. More than 50 current Nicholas students are pursuing concurrent degrees, which allow them to complement their Master of Environmental Management (MEM) or Master of Forestry (MF) degrees with a second advanced degree program at Duke or another university.
Students typically can complete the two degrees in less time and expense than completing each program separately.
Nicholas alums Nick DiLuzio, Matt Jentgen, Michael LeVine and Sidney McLaurin took advantage of concurrent degree programs that expanded their skillsets and professional networks and gave them an advantage in their fields that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
DiLuzio has advice for anyone contemplating a concurrent degree.
“Even if you think one of the degrees may not be related to your career, do it anyway,” he said. “In addition to having an expanded skill set and knowledge base, two advanced degrees from Duke looks pretty good on
NICK DILUZIO knew he wanted to go to graduate school when he completed his undergraduate biology degree at Davidson College, but the traditional, research-based Master of Science degree did not seem like the right path.
“The MEM was career focused and better equipped me with the skills and tools I needed to be a leader in the environmental field,” he said.
To take advantage of his interest in forestry and the opportunity to earn two master’s degrees from Duke in two and a half years, he pursued his MEM and MF concurrently.
A summer internship while he was in school eventually turned into a full-time position as a project manager with NewFields, an Atlanta-based environmental consulting and engineering firm.
“In consulting, we have to be prepared for anything our clients might ask of us, so having my forestry background and being a certified forest- er has come in useful,” said DiLuzio. “Right now, I am doing a lot of work on phytoremediation (using trees and plants to clean up contaminated soil and/or groundwater), and I get to combine my remediation knowl- edge with my forestry knowledge, which is a lot of fun.”
“I am still able to put what I learned at the Nicholas School to use every day in my career, especially the GIS (geographic information system) classes,” he said.
A stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras left MATT JENTGEN with a passion for environmental policy. His experience in a country where policies were lacking or seldom enforced gave him an appreciation for environmental regulations and an interest in learning which policies were most effective and had the greatest impact.
At first, Jentgen only was interested in pursuing a master’s degree in public policy, but he saw the Nicholas School table at a graduate school fair and learned more about the MEM program.
“I thought an MEM degree would be a great combination with a public policy degree,” he said. “I was keenly interested in a career in environmental policy, but I lacked specific experience, and I thought the dual degree program would give me the skills and experience to crack into the field.”
And it did. Jentgen, who is a policy analyst at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional office in Seattle, works on air quality issues in the Pacific Northwest. He primarily supports state and local officials in implementing plans that reduce emissions in areas with pollutants above federal standards.
“The MEM/MPP concurrent degree program is a great opportunity to gain the skills and experience necessary for entering, and advancing, the environmental policy field,” said Jentgen.
“With the public policy degree, I was able to learn the communication and analytical skills important for policymaking, more generally,” he said. “Then with the environmental management degree, I was able to specialize in certain areas and learn specific analytical skills that would help me analyze issues specific to environmental policy.”
SIDNEY MCLAURIN likes building things. It is what led him to get a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering at the University of Florida. Getting an MEM/ MBA concurrent degree did not change that.
“I like to think that now I’ve just moved to building companies,” said McLaurin, who lives in Durham and is a regional general manager at Lime, a U.S.-based bicycle- and scooter-sharing provider.
McLaurin helped build Lime from a company with 25 employees to one that has more than 500 employees worldwide.
As he made a decision about where to attend graduate school, McLaurin was primarily interested in figuring out ways to use the power of industry and corporate America to positively influence environmental outcomes.
“Duke was a great fit for me as both Fuqua and Nicholas are highly regarded programs,” he said. “The Duke faculty, staff and alumni also were enormously welcoming during my visits and this made me feel more at home.”
McLaurin, DiLuzio, Jentgen and LeVine all found that getting concurrent degrees—no matter which—allowed them to take advantage of all that Duke had to offer, including a larger professional network.
“The ability to understand and converse in different professional ‘languages’ (science, law, business, etc.) can be incredibly valuable,” said LeVine. “It can further one’s career and allow for creative thinking and problem solving that might not otherwise be possible.”
MICHAEL LEVINE guides Ocean Conservancy’s work in Alaska on issues like offshore oil and gas, fisheries and climate change. As a senior arctic fellow, he works in partnership with communities, government entities and others to bridge the gap between science, law and policy to help better inform decisions about the large marine ecosystems in the Arctic and Pacific oceans.
“The ability to understand scientific information and translate to law and policy settings has been incredibly valuable,” he said.
LeVine studied civil and environmental engineering as an undergraduate at Cornell. While his dislike of the applications side of engineering led him to consider law school as his next step, he didn’t want to give up the science that he enjoyed. Ultimately, LeVine chose to pursue concurrent degrees at Duke in order to continue broadening his scientific understanding of environmental issues while becoming a lawyer.
The skills and environmental knowledge that his Nicholas degree provided have paid dividends in his career.
“I work almost daily with GIS experts to help understand and depict information about the ocean in Alaska,” he said of his work for Ocean Conservancy, a D.C.-based environmental advocacy nonprofit. “Without the semester class I took from Pat Halpin, I would have no understanding of the power of these tools or what is needed to use them effectively.”
“When I moved back to Alaska after spending a summer in Juneau between my third and fourth years at Duke in 2002, it was for a two-year position,” said LeVine. “I never considered that I might still be here this many years later—or that Alaska’s people, places, issues and history would be so central to my professional and personal existence.”