Hello, Everyone! My name is Sean Wallace and I am New Avenue’s summer intern. I am, and will continue to be, responsible for most of the new content on our blog until September when I return to academia and Justin has to spend more of his precious programming time working on blogs. Sorry, buddy…
Anyway, New Avenue’s founder and my boss, Kevin, asked me to write a blog talking about my education and myself (which is solidly awkward for me). To do this correctly I suppose we must start at the humble beginnings. I grew up in Owatonna, a town of about 25,000 in southern Minnesota. Between spending time at my grandparent’s home in northern Minnesota and my other grandparent’s buffalo farm (yes, buffalo) 3 miles south of my house in Owatonna I developed a love for animals and nature.
Owatonna, MN in May of 2013 (this is not a joke)
While hunting and fishing I listened to those older than me and realized that things really were changing in the environment. Stories of colder winters in the past, more fish in the lakes, and healthier pheasant populations are what started my interest in environmental protection.
The summer after my junior year of high school I received a letter from the track and field department at Stanford University. I was extremely lucky that the program didn’t have many recruiting leads for the throws team (shot put, hammer, discus, javelin), and decided that the best way to recruit was by sending a letter to every junior who made their respective state meet in the nation. Long story short, I got in. That was pretty exciting.
That is how I found myself at the school with the best Environmental Science program in the world, according to U.S. News and World Report
There’s one more way that we beat Cal…
It took me a long time to actually settle down and decide to major in Stanford’s version of an environmental science degree, which we call Earth Systems, because I was not well prepared after my public education at Owatonna High School. I could read and write well enough, I had done well in my science courses in high school, but my math was just not where it had to be for me to succeed at this level. This allows me to bring up a topic that I believe in very strongly. We need to be serious about teaching our kids math basics in school.
When I was in school we had a core math program that was meant to integrate the math basics. This meant that I never took a class called algebra during my secondary schooling. I still have never taken a class called algebra or geometry. This posed a problem because at the end of the day I, along with many other students from this program, gave up on math because we didn’t have the basics cemented in our curriculum. I want to make it clear that I do not blame any of the teachers for this problem, I also believe that whoever decided this program was the right way to go had the best interests of the kids in mind, it just didn’t work for a lot of us. The Owatonna School System has realized this and has reverted back to a more traditional approach to mathematics.
Lead Author: Satan
Anyway, it took me until I had sat through several fuzzy classes at Stanford, think philosophy, English, and writing courses, until I realized that I wanted to major in a subject that gave me the skills and knowledge to make a difference in the issues that were the most important to me. At the end of my freshman year is when I decided that I would find a way to get a degree from the school of earth sciences at Stanford.
The next step in my academic path was to decide what my focus would be. In the Earth Systems program we have a core set of courses that we all must take, and then we have a choice of 5 different tracks that we can follow to get a specialty within the broad field of environmental science. I decided that I would do the most engineering intensive track, the energy, science, and technology track, because I felt that this specialty is where I could make the biggest positive impact and because energy and technology is where the money moves in environmental science. (Hahaha! Money in environmental science…)
The variety of specialty tracks within Stanford’s Earth Systems program is both impressive and interesting. My focus deals with renewable and fossil energy, technology for efficiency improvements, and policy solutions for energy challenges. The Anthrosphere track involves the study of human interaction with the environment including coursework in environmental policy, economics, sustainable development, and social entrepreneurship. The Biosphere track focuses on the exploration of biological systems and how humans affect ecology, conservation biology, and biogeochemistry. The Land Systems track focuses on terrestrial ecology, land use, and human driven land change in one of 3 focus areas (land, water, or urban planning). Lastly, the Oceans track builds an understanding of ocean systems through the study of ocean physics, marine biology and chemistry, remote sensing, and field experience with a quarter spent at Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford in Australia, or Stanford at Sea.
When I was nearing the end of my undergrad experience I had realized something, I kinda liked engineering. I had taken enough environmental and civil engineering courses to see that this was a good alternative to policy work if I wanted to stay connected with environmentalism and have a chance to make a decent living while still being proud of my work. This led me to my current degree program in the school of engineering at Stanford. I am getting a masters degree in Civil Engineering – Sustainable Design and Construction. This is a relatively new and innovative field that is focused on making the buildings and construction processes of the future as efficient as possible. This is exciting because when done correctly, a construction project can be significantly more sustainable from breaking ground to deconstruction while maintaining economic viability. This is what led me to come to New Avenue to be able to see the beginnings of an innovative and sustainable company breaking into this relatively young industry.
To any high school kids that may be reading this article I want you to know that you are probably awesome already (especially because you’re reading about green building in high school), and if you’re one of the very few that are not quite awesome yet, you have the ability to become someone awesome. Don’t let past failures, through faults of your own or others, keep you from accomplishing what is important to you. Also, accept that sometimes what is important to you can change over time. If you learn, explore, work hard, and have some fun along the way there is a good chance that things will start falling into place for you.