“Eventually, I want to transfer the skills I gained in the program and do something on a broader scale—maybe city planning or working in the renewable energy field. Thanks to the UConn credentials I earned in the program, I feel like I have a fighting chance of pursuing my dream—even if I’m up against people with full Master’s degrees.” – Rachel Grigorian, Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management graduate
Rachel Grigorian takes her UConn graduate certificate credentials
with her on the job, helping clients navigate complex environmental
regulations and resource management issues associated with new
home construction in Central Vermont.
Right in Her Own Backyard
Rachel embodies the expression, “Act locally, think globally.” As Lead Landscape Project Manager at Rivers Bend Design in Vermont’s Mad River Valley, she’s constantly battling water and other resource management issues that affect her clients. Rachel is hoping that with her University of Connecticut (UConn) credential under her belt, she can take what she learned in the program—and on the job—to make an even bigger impact on sustainability in Vermont.
For Rachel, the real-world issues addressed during the Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management program couldn’t be more personal. She, her husband Clayton, and their two children are among 350 people who live in the small rural town of Granville, Vermont. In her position as Lead Landscape Project Manager for a local landscape design firm, she helps manage complex environmental issues that arise during new construction projects.
Water, water everywhere
“There’s a lot of land available in Vermont, and everyone wants to build their dream home. But that can be a real problem because of the tremendous amount of water our state has combined with the steep geography of the Green Mountains,” says Rachel. “So we do a lot of water runoff planning. We have to look carefully at the way water moves through ecosystems and properly plan for it so that we don’t destroy the land and environment that attracted the homeowner in the first place.”
As Rachel notes, participating in the program prepared her to tackle real problems she faces on job sites. “One course, Sustainable Natural Resources Management, presented case studies on the issues we face today in the areas of sustainable agriculture, fisheries, forestry, freshwater, marine, water, and wildlife resources. It had a big science base to it. I use what I learned every day in my current job.”
The program went with her
Rachel admits that if the program hadn’t been available online, she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to participate. As she explains, she got her undergraduate degree in landscape design from UMASS Amherst, but always wanted to do something in sustainability and conservation. Her sister went to UConn, so she naturally thought about getting a Master’s in Landscape Design here, but decided she wanted to explore a different route. That’s when she came across the Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management Program’s website. “I was not only interested in the focus of the program, but also because the curriculum was online. Time was limited; I was working and getting my Master Gardeners certificate, so I was juggling a lot. Because it was online, I could participate on my own schedule,” she recalls.
Rachel took the plunge and enrolled in the certificate program for the fall 2014 semester. At the time, her boyfriend, now husband, had moved to Vermont to take a job. “I had already enrolled in the program when Clayton moved. I ended up quitting my job at a landscape firm in New Canaan, Connecticut and moved to Vermont. Thankfully, I could just continue the online program without any interruption.”
A fighting chance
Rachel was surprised at how much interaction there was between professors and students. “It was just as good as being in a traditional classroom—if not better in some ways. I could post a question in a forum, and I knew I’d get multiple responses from students who might have a different take on the concepts or understand them better than me. I also liked that the program focused so much on writing proposals for projects. I learned how to craft proposals that would entice the audience I was writing for to read on.” And Rachel concludes:
“Eventually, I want to transfer the skills I gained in the program and do something on a broader scale—maybe city planning or working in the renewable energy field. Thanks to the UConn credentials I earned in the program, I feel like I have a fighting chance of pursuing my dream—even if I’m up against people with full Master’s degrees.”
“If you are considering taking the SEPM online graduate certificate program, go for it! Not only will it enhance your ability to advance your career, but you can also apply the credits you earn to a Master’s degree at UConn, which is exactly what I did. It was a real win-win for my family and for me!” – Michelle Kosmo, Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management graduate
Michelle Kosmo – student, mom, and Coast Guard Reservist –
has discovered that taking courses online is more time-intensive
than in a traditional classroom. But for her, that time was well spent,
giving her invaluable insights into other classmates’ perspectives
and a wealth of real-world skills.
You could call Michelle Kosmo a major multi-tasker. While pursuing her post-graduate education in natural resources, she juggled the demands of her family along with her duties as a Coast Guard Reservist.
Now it’s all paying off. Michelle recently earned her Master’s Degree in Natural Resources at the University of Connecticut (UConn). And she just completed UConn’s Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management (SEPM) Online Graduate Certificate Program.
What was the key to her ability to manage multiple priorities at once? “Many of the classes I took were online, including all of the courses for the certificate program,” she answers. “I didn’t have to be in a set location at a specific time. I had a lot of flexibility and could complete the work on my own schedule. When you have a small child – and a significant commitment like I do to the Coast Guard – that’s really important.”
But says, Michelle, “Just because you can do the certificate program courses on your own time, don’t be fooled. I found that they required about twice as much work as traditional classes.”
That time was well-spent, emphasizes Michelle. “Each of the four courses gave us a wealth of information relevant to timely topics, while covering many different areas, from coastal environments and fisheries to open spaces and sustainable agriculture. And each course built on the previous one, culminating with a Capstone Project.”
She also greatly valued the opportunity to interact with her peers, many of whom were working professionals planning to go into – or already in – the natural resources and sustainable environmental planning fields. “The discussion component of the class allowed us to make posts and reply to other posts on a regular basis throughout the program. That gave me incredible insights into other students’ perspectives, which I don’t think I would have gotten in quite the same way in the traditional classroom setting. I also found that the online format of the program helped enhance my understanding of the material.”
Most importantly, Michelle says, between the two required courses and the two electives she chose to take – NRE 5205 – Decision Methods in Natural Resources and the Environment and NRE 5210 – Communications for Environmental Decision Makers – she gained real-world, hands-on skills. “In our field, you’re often dealing with disparate groups. Many times, they are individuals with extremely different agendas and perspectives. The program gave me the written and oral communication skills I’ll need to convey my ideas in a way that helps resolve conflicts and facilitates negotiations. For example, I now know how to structure a meeting that keeps the conversation on track and helps build consensus.”
During the final NRE 5220 Capstone Project course, students were required to work on a group assignment to prepare an environmental plan, which gave Michelle the opportunity to utilize the knowledge she gained in the online certificate program. Her group assignment required her to work with two classmates to create a Green Space and Green Infrastructure Addendum for the City of Hartford’s Plan of Conservation and Development. “We were required to work through the entire process of developing a comprehensive environmental plan using the systematic PrOACT approach to decision making. It’s a great model because it shows your constituents that you have thought through the plan in a very comprehensive, structured way.”
While Michelle is raising her young daughter, she plans to put her career in natural resources on hold—at least for the immediate future. But she says, every month she has the opportunity to use the knowledge she gained when she heads to Boston, Massachusetts to fulfill her duties with the Coast Guard Reserve. “I intuitively draw upon the new perspectives and skills I gained from my experiences at UConn; they have become integral to my way of thinking about the environment.”
In summary, she says: “If you are considering taking the SEPM online graduate certificate program, go for it! Not only will it enhance your ability to advance your career, but you can also apply the credits you earn to a Master’s degree at UConn, which is exactly what I did. It was a real win-win for my family and for me!”