What’s Next after Nicholas?

Alumni offer words of congratulations and advice to the Class of 2024 as the new graduates navigate the next chapter in their personal and professional lives.

No one knows whether they have chosen the optimal path to lead to the brightest future, but you made it into (and now through!) the Nicholas School. You can enter the next stage of life with the certainty that you’re – at the absolute least – a highly capable individual whose choices are informed, thoughtful, and compassionate toward the environment. To seek wholesomeness as you embark through the adventures and trials of being human, remember your roots and your people, express gratitude at every opportunity, and invest in your chosen community. Big congratulations to all of you, and thoroughly enjoy this major accomplishment!

Emma DeAngeli, MEM’22
Senior Research Analyst, Resources for the Future

In most cases, no set of classes will prepare you completely for any specific job. Employers usually understand this and expect new hires to go through on-the-job training to become more familiar with the roles and responsibilities they need. Think of your Duke experience as a successful trial run that proves to employers that you have what it takes. In other words, don’t sweat not having a complete background that a job posting may be suggesting. Much of that will come on the job.
Don’t worry about being too selective either. Be mindful of accepting the first job offer if you are simply eager for employment. The job you take could set you on a trajectory that may be hard to alter course once in the field. Meaning, your resume could pigeon-hole you in a skill set.

Michael Goralczyk, MEM’15, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Congratulations on your graduation from the Nicholas School! You should be proud of your accomplishments! You made it!
 As you move into the next chapter, don’t forget to take the connections you’ve made at Duke University with you. One of the most valuable assets I’ve used in my career is the network of classmates, faculty, and staff that I met during my time at the Nicholas School. Remember to stay connected and seek and offer help when needed. Your classmates are not just your friends, but a network of individuals who understand the environmental field. Don’t hesitate to reach out for advice when navigating your next phase. You will be surprised who in your network can offer insight, make a connection, or offer support. Remember to continue to support and cheer each other on!

Taylor Price, MEM’18, Senior Manager, Global Sustainability at AptarGroup, Inc.

I would offer these words: perseverance, patience, and a learning mindset. The perseverance to push past obstacles, real or imagined. The ability to persevere but with the patience to see through the obstacle(s) and other issues impeding the path forward. The ability to learn and innovate, to practice adaptive management and flexibility.
One other remark deserves mention. This is the idea of technical knowledge versus understanding human “processes” including group process. Decision-making is a human derivation and includes data but not solely relying on it. The practice of group process and, more importantly, consensus-building is critical to our continued progress.

Mike Foreman, MF’80, Virginia State retired; now UVA faculty, Forestry and Environmental Studies

I took a gamble on a job out of Duke with a small company with start-up vibes and low pay. Five years later, I am now one of the most senior people at the company, am well compensated, have a team of five reporting to me, and get to work with a lot of interesting clients on meaningful topics. My advice is to not pick a job based solely on salary and brand name, but more importantly on your prediction for future growth at the company.

With a Nicholas School education, you are uniquely qualified for almost any role in the environmental space. You’ll soon learn that most existing professionals don’t have all the answers, so don’t undersell yourself and your ability to learn in the role and contribute to finding innovative solutions to complex problems.

Jeff Meltzer, MEM’19, Director of Research & Advisory Services, Sustainability Roundtable, Inc.

“This too shall pass” was advice given to me by one of my first post-graduation supervisors, and it has become a mantra since. I’ve learned this applies not only to challenges and setbacks but also to the wonderful times you wish would never end. Treasure the good when you can–and know that the hard will get easier. Remember that every challenge is an opportunity to learn–about your passions, your potential contributions and impact, and who you are meant to be. Do the work of continuously seeking to understand your values and what motivates you. I’ve come to learn that people are their best–at work and throughout their lives–when they follow their strengths and do what they are called to do. If that requires you to change course and pursue a different path, get a new map. Go get it!

Deb Wojcik, MEM’00, Executive Director, Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster

Congratulations, Class of 2024! I am so proud of all of you and am grateful to have shared a year on the Nicholas School campus with many of you. This year is a challenging one to graduate into, but you are incredibly capable and motivated to make change where we need it the most. Some professional advice from my class is to not expect your dream job right after you leave the Nicholas School. This degree provides amazing opportunities that are merely a stepping stone to the destination you’re meant to be at. Make sure to be kind to yourself in the job searching process, too. Outside of work, making friends in a new space without the structure of school can be hard, but you’ve got this! Finding hobbies that bring you joy is so critical. Wishing you happiness and success in your future!

Michelle (Meech) Carter, MEM’23, Clean Energy Campaigns Director, North Carolina League of Conservation Voters

As I started a new career several years ago, a mentor of mine with four decades of federal and nonprofit leadership experience told me, “you’ll overestimate what you can achieve in a year, but you’ll also underestimate what you can achieve in five.”  This learning curve allegory has shaped how I make major life decisions in two ways: 1. Setting and regularly reviewing goals for where I want to be personally and professionally five years from now helps guide decisions I make today. 2. Resilience and confidence are assets born not from perfection, but rather, through failure. I strive to fail often and small to steepen my learning curve. Have a plan, look for opportunities, and take chances. This will allow you to make informed decisions about your career – and your life – without fear.

Tyler Sammis, DEL-MEM’20, Executive Director, Park Institute of America

Congratulations! You are on your way to make massive change in this world for our people and planet. Never lose sight of the bigger picture and YOUR why! Be proud of yourself and soak it in!

Kara Nunnally, MEM’22
Senior Customer Success Associate, Raptor Maps

Congratulations! Graduating from the Nicholas School is an incredible achievement, and I hope you feel great pride in what you’ve accomplished. The transition from student to alum will no doubt bring wonderful new life experiences, but also times of challenge and uncertainty– please know that you can always lean on the Duke community to support you. My advice for this transition is to be curious, kind, celebrate the small wins, and find purpose in what you do (even if that ends up being totally different than what you initially envisioned!). Our work in the environmental field is important, but as you launch your career, never lose sight of what really matters: your relationship with yourself, with your loved ones, and with the natural world. Good luck and enjoy the journey!

Tricia Hooper, MEM’16
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

1. Work Hard and Smart: Only ask for a raise when you’ve created value above and beyond what you were hired to do. Showing up is table stakes. Work hard, have fun, and get enough sleep. 2. Grow Professionally and Personally: Be curious about your profession and yourself, learn, apply, improve, and create. Push your comfort zones. Be honest in your self-assessments. 3. Embrace Humility: You know some “stuff,” but others may know more. Recognize that experience does have value. Learn from others. You may not be as smart, special or important as you think…yet! That’s life. Experience takes time. 4. Embrace Complexity: The world is not black and white. It just isn’t. If you think it is, few will take you seriously. Hard problems are complex and messy. Solutions take empathy and compromise. Let’s get to work!

Matthew Burks, DEL-MEM’13, Chief Strategy Officer, E Source

Some of the best career advice I received was from the Chief of the Forest Service during an orientation for new Presidential Management Fellows. He said that your career can move forward like a sailboat, tacking back and forth depending on the winds you encounter. Sometimes things are smooth sailing and you fly straight along, sometimes you need to move at an angle to go forward. I’ll add to not be afraid to take excursions from your career path! I felt like I was on a straight path after graduating, but I decided to make a few stops, leaving a full-time job to move overseas and do some (less stable) independent contracting, and now making changes to care for my daughter. Each step of the way I try to be true to myself, following the path that sits best in my heart.

Katie LaJeunesse Connette, MEM’09, International Program Manager at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Be bold, lead, strive to make a difference. Build and cultivate relationships. Strong, committed, and diverse teams will always achieve more than individuals. Be willing to take unexpected paths, they may open doors you didn’t expect.

John Neagley, DEL-MEM’13, Founder and Principal, Blue Native Consulting LLC

I’ve had many roles and taken many paths over the years in my career, but I think the two attributes that have helped me the most are being curious and different. First, be curious to try to understand why things work the way they do and find ways to improve them, if possible. And for most jobs, being different is better than being the best. Your differentiation in experience plus curiosity will open many doors.

Pedro Gochicoa, MEM’17, Account Manager, Xylem

While it is reasonable to think that your Duke journey is coming to an end, the truth is very different: your Duke journey is only starting. As you embark on your professional endeavors and launch successful careers as next-generation environmental leaders, rely on your Duke network to help you all the way. Connect with alums on LinkedIn inquiring about their experiences working in your dream companies; ask former Blue Devils about professional advice when confronting hard situations; use the Ask a Blue Devil tool to identify Dukies who can help you when you need it the most. Welcome to the ForeverDuke network!

Edgar Virguez, AM’22, PhD ’22, Researcher & Deputy Group Leader, Carnegie Science

Your career, much like life, follows a squiggly path, not a straight line. Grow comfortable feeling uncomfortable, embrace the unexpected and be open to change as you never know where the opportunities will take you. I thought I was going to be an environmental attorney but ended up having a blast in corporate seeing the world, and volunteering with nonprofits and boards helping others.

Kris Pickler, MEM’99, Honeywell, GC Global Real Estate

As you embrace change in your life, remember that you don’t need to follow the path that others have walked before. Your passions, interests, skills, and experiences can drive you to roads that have never been walked before. While uncertainty can push you back, remember you are not alone. Rely on your Duke network to regain strength and motivation when you need it the most. Cherish the memories you have constructed at the Nicholas School, but be aware they are only beginning. This is just the start of your Duke history.

Temis Coral, MEM’19, Sustainability & Climate Strategy Practice Lead, JBE

Your professional network will create opportunities for you if you grow it and maintain it. If you are considering a job change or actively looking for a new job, it’s critical that you reach out to the people in your network who are most likely to be able to help. If you don’t do that and they know of an opportunity that may be ideal for you, they are not likely reach out to you; but if you let them know you are looking for new opportunities, they are likely to think of you. And pay it forward by being generous with your time and effort when you come across someone who needs professional guidance. Finally, too many people start a job and almost immediately start thinking about their next move. Try to avoid doing that. Think about all the ways you can flourish in your new position.

Gabriel Calvo, MEM’95, Assistant General Counsel, Volkswagen Group of America