LIFTing Career Support for Sustainability Students: An Interview with LIFT Alumna Shaina Kambo
By: Madison Phelan, Sandi Ruddick, and Shaina Kambo
Madison: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey to this point?
Shaina: My name is Shaina Kambo, and I graduated from UT in December 2022 with a degree in geography and sustainability studies. I transferred to UT from ACC in the fall of 2020. Before that point, I was a little unsure about what I wanted to major in initially. I was thinking about doing business; once I transferred into UT, I heard about the Global Sustainability Leadership Institute (GSLI) and its association with the McCombs School of Business. I thought it was really interesting that there was a program combining sustainability and business issues I initially wanted to major in business, but I just didn’t think I was passionate about it, because it felt like it was missing a lot of the social and cultural elements that I was looking for. So, I thought it was a really cool way to merge different interests. In the fall of 2021, I consulted as part of LIFT for Mastercard City Possible, and I was really happy to get another chance to consult for the global law firm, DLA Piper, this semester as well.
Madison: With your past experience, what inspired you to pursue extracurriculars and a career in this field?
Shaina: I read up on the GSLI and LIFT through a newsletter, because I always enjoyed reading newsletters from different departments. I thought that it matched really nicely with my sustainability major because it involves looking at the environment and how it interplays with human beings and the culture. The major also deals with how we can make sure that we meet the needs of not only our current generations but also those in the future, whether that’s for the environment, social, or other reasons. I thought it was really interesting, because business is very much integrated into human society, and it’s definitely a necessary part of it.. There is a big need for the corporate world to become more sustainable, whether that’s just simply looking at the environmental aspects, including materials and supply chain and packaging, but also the human element, like ensuring that employers as well as consumers have the chance to participate in a more sustainable economy
Madison: It sounds like it was a perfect storm of information that led you in this direction! You also mentioned LIFT and why you applied; what was your day-to-day life like within LIFT? What did you work on with your client?
Shaina: As part of the Fall 2021 LIFT cohort,, I worked with four other students to consult for Mastercard City Possible . Our team consists of three master’s students, and two undergraduates, including myself. We worked with our client to create a playbook that could be presented to cities that were not already within that network with tips for how to become more holistically sustainable, incorporating economic, social, and environmental factors. We interviewed officials from several cities including Austin, Portland, and Honolulu. We also did research on relevant Mastercard technologies, issues pertaining to sustainability, as well while frequently communicating with the client. As for the Fall 2022 semester, I worked with a much larger group of undergraduates and graduate students and a client who is an attorney at the global law firm, DLA Piper. We worked on a handbook as a reference for companies–primarily U.S.-based companies–but even ones that have subsidiary companies in other countries, including European countries. This handbook contains guidance regarding implementing goals and strategies pertaining to the growing field of ESG. All of these factors are becoming a lot more prevalent in the business world and, in fact, a lot of times there are policies implemented by the government that make sure that companies are required to follow in order to meet certain standards. It’s was really interesting going through the process of researching, writing, and editing a professional document.
Madison: How did the LIFT program help you in terms of your career search or figuring out what you want to do?
Shaina: It definitely piqued my interest in applying for jobs that are in the ESG field. I’d heard a little bit about ESG some of my classes, but none of my classes really focused a lot on it. The opportunity to learn a new skill attracted me to apply again to the LIFT program, because ESG is something that I know is very important, and a lot of companies want to get into it. I’m currently applying to jobs that want consultants and have roles available for people who want to work within the field.
Madison: What were your favorite parts of the LIFT program or some key takeaways that you learned?
Shaina: It was very rewarding working on a team with students across all different majors and with different levels of education, from the first few years of undergrad to PhD. We were able to incorporate a lot of different skills and talents and teach each other. Companies like Mastercard City Possible and DLA Piper are very much revered within the business or corporate world, in general, which made the work both challenging and rewarding. It was interesting being able to work with clients with much career experience who inspired us to apply for jobs that are of a higher caliber than some of us would normally apply to. I would say the important takeaways for me were the importance of teamwork, not being afraid to take on positions of leadership , and being open to taking on different roles than I normally would take in helping the project move forward.
Madison: Those are wonderful things. And speaking of wonderful things, congratulations on receiving the LIFT scholarship once again. How did the scholarship impact you? Or how will it?
Shaina: It helps a lot to have an additional source of income, because I spent several hours a week working on my LIFT projects, and that can also lead to less work time in terms of making money. I think in general it really is motivating for students receive a scholarship, because it allows them to see that your work is valued and affirms that they are on the right track.
Madison: Now that you have been a part of GSLI programming for the last few semesters–and you’ve touched on how you wanted to be a business major and then jumped into your current major–how has your perception of business’s role in driving sustainability changed or evolved?
Shaina: It’s really great just to see how sustainability can work nicely with business instead of being an opposing force. A lot of us think, “Oh, businesses and a lot of corporations, especially, just don’t care about the environment, and they will go about doing whatever they want in order to meet the bottom line.” But it’s really great to see that there are a lot of efforts being put in place by leaders in the corporate world to meet sustainability and ESG goals. It’s wonderful to see that these factors are also influenced by a lot of policies on the federal level, as well. It’s becoming a lot more pressing and prevalent for all corporations to be involved in making sure that we can create an equitable and safer and healthier future within the world of business.
Madison: You’ve made a great point about the opposing forces, and that is a great explanation about how you don’t have to pick just between the two. Do you have any advice that would you give to other students interested in sustainability?
Shaina: It is pretty much necessary now, regardless of whatever field you’re going into, to think about sustainability. As I mentioned regarding choosing my major, it came down to my desire incorporate .human and the cultural studies, as well as in-depth knowledge of environmental issues, into my higher education. Now that sustainability is important in practically all disciplines, I think that it’s necessary to gain an understanding of the field of study not just because there are now policies and regulations that require all organizations and businesses to meet certain targets related to sustainability, but also on a more personal and human level. When we see the effects of climate change and the increasing inequity in regions and communities that are impacted by climate change, it helps it is imperative that we all look after not only our present interest in resources, but also ensure that access for future generations. I think it’s very important for us to consider the past, present, and future of sustainability and consistently work towards improvement.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.