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Sustainability Internship Alumni Profile: Robert Nathan ’10
Sustainability Internship Alumni Profile: Robert Nathan ’10

With a passion for both the preserving the environment and engaging with people, Portland State alumnus Robert Nathan successfully navigated a sustainability internship with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and a graduate assistantship with PSU’s Community Environmental Services while pursuing his master’s degree in Leadership for Sustainability Education at Portland State.

All the extra time, energy, and effort he spent outside the classroom on career-building experiences paid off: Nathan is now working with the Northwest Earth Institute, a Portland nonprofit that “inspires people to take responsibility for Earth” by developing resources that help community members organize and lead discussion courses on topics like sustainable living, healthy food choices, and alternative economic systems.

Alumni Stats

  • PSU degree: Master of Science in Leadership for Sustainability Education & Graduate Certificate in Sustainability
  • Graduation year: 2010
  • Current position: Director of Digital Engagement, Northwest Earth Institute
  • Work-relevant experience while attending PSU: 

Alumni Q&A

What motivates you to do the work you do with the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI)?

I have a strong passion for the mission of NWEI (inspiring people to take responsibility for Earth). That, along with NWEI’s model for change, aligns perfectly with the principles that guide my practice as a sustainability education professional. 

What did you do as a sustainability intern with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)? 

In conjunction with one other intern, I developed an agency wide sustainability assessment and report that focused on DEQ's procurement and waste practices. The other intern focused on procurement, and I focused on waste. We assessed the operations of the entire agency and developed a report that included recommendations for improvements, setting targets, and measuring success. Our findings were presented to the sustainability committee for the agency. It was 100 hours of work spread out for three months. 

What other experiences did you have while you were a student at Portland State that helped you succeed in your current career? 

Working with Community Environmental Services allowed me to gain project management experience, which prepared me well for directing programs at NWEI. In addition, my research while in graduate school focused on best practices for transformational sustainability learning, and I have been able to work closely with our curriculum director to implement those practices into the pedagogy at NWEI.  

How did you balance all the responsibilities of full-time graduate school, a part-time job with PSU’s Community Environmental Services, and an internship with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, in addition to the demands of everyday life?

One way in which I set myself up for success while at PSU was making sure all the work I was involved in provided some sort of contribution to my final comprehensive exam project. For example, every time I wrote a paper in a class, I would pick the same topics but approach them from the lens of that course. Topics I chose would always relate to one another and the direction I intended on going during my comps. This is key folks! By the end, you will be able to combine all of your work and turn it into one concise well thought out lit review when you are ready. 

I also really enjoyed the work I was doing and at many times it didn’t feel like work. Most importantly though, I built a strong social network for support and made sure to communicate with all of my professors on a regular basis. 

What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a career in environmental nonprofits?

Spend some time volunteering with organizations in the region that work on issues you are interested in. Many times we romanticize this work, and the truth is, it is all very different and every nonprofit is their own machine. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the environmental nonprofit sector in this region and make sure you really understand the work different organizations are tackling. Then, get an informational interview with executive directors from organizations you are interested in. This will allow you to learn what skills they are looking for, and what their schedule for funding the next position is. 

Which professional organizations you would recommend to students seeking a career in your field?