Cameren Cousins, MBA '13in Sustainability
Learning to Push the Boundaries of Business
AUNE: What brought you to the MBA in Sustainability at Antioch University New England?
Cameren: I knew that I wanted a career focused in sustainability – specifically, how to bring sustainable behavior and infrastructure to the general population. Over the past several years, I did some investigation into landscape architecture and urban planning, taking graduate classes in each of these disciplines. I enjoyed the design element of these professional fields, but I felt that there had to be a more effective – and immediate – way to allow the public to act sustainably every day. So, I turned to studying business and private organizations, as those seemed to be the biggest players in the landscape architecture and planning case studies I encountered.
I wanted to be able to talk the talk when working with (or even within) traditional organizations; a degree in business would allow me to speak the language of finance and organizational behavior. Yet I didn't want a traditional business program, because “traditional” business can be so short-sighted. I knew AUNE would give me a good background to business while pushing the boundaries of how we define good and responsible business.
AUNE: What did you find valuable and why as you were going through the program?
Cameren: My classmates really made the program. I have friends who went to B schools at larger, more well-known universities who have said that their classmates are their least favorite part about their school. I just couldn't believe it when I started to hear things like that!
My cohort supported my belief that there is always a better way to do business or operate as an organization, and they earnestly believed in my strengths, convictions, and decisions. My cohort kept me going, and gave me confidence when I returned to the real world after a class weekend. No matter what reaction I received at my job when I suggested a sustainable change, I knew there were fifteen other folks who saw the light and were spreading the same message.
AUNE: How were you challenged (in a good way) by this program? How did you respond to the challenge, and what have you learned or how have you grown professionally and/or personally as a result?
Cameren: The challenges were academic and personal. There were some classes (numbers-based, for me) that got me out of my comfort zone, yet reminded me that I am still capable of learning and succeeding at new things! Time management, of course, was something I needed to pay attention to. Despite being a teacher, I found the frequent presentations daunting; it’s been a while since I had to talk about something I wasn’t in the habit of reciting in my sleep. Presenting at AUNE has made other professional presentations (to adults) seem like a cakewalk. I have a few presentations at educational conferences coming up, and I am not worried about speaking intelligently and with conviction at all!
AUNE: What are you doing now professionally?
Cameren: I am duffing around, because I am on summer vacation.
In reality, I am a teacher and the sustainability coordinator for an independent school in Concord, Massachusetts. I orchestrate all things sustainable on campus – I help with curriculum development, work with the facilities crew and provide resources for them, advise the business office on some decisions, and help the kids start projects on campus that better all of our lives. My responsibilities have grown each year, which does mean I don’t always get to duff around in the summer.... there are the occasional planning sessions and meetings that I get called in for.
This is the same job I was in when I started the program, but it’s been a great fit for me. I won’t be there forever, but I plan to use the next few years to build my resume and leadership capacity. The school is flexible and open to my goals around sustainability.
AUNE: How has your learning in the MBA been valuable to you professionally and/or personally?
Cameren: I can’t imagine not having this new information and these new skills. In terms of strictly sustainability knowledge (as in: what’s going on out there, what are the good resources, how to deeply think about sustainability, how to balance sustainability with business needs), I am more confident when I speak with my administrative group. I can let them know what the priorities for us, as an educational organization, should be. My new skills are mostly around leadership and facilitation. The sustainability work group meetings and my own goal-setting exercises are much more coherent, logical, and easy to follow through on.
AUNE: Please describe a specific situation in which you drew on some aspect of your learning from the MBA program.
Cameren: My practicum project – examining ways to increase the local food in our dining hall that is run by a third-party service provider – is a great example. I ended up in the spring entirely not where I had intended to be, but still successful in my pursuit of local food procurement. Through my understanding – thanks to AUNE – of how organizations operate, what change agents are up against, and the myriad ways to define sustainability, I was able to roll with some surprises during the project and still advocate for sustainable food procurement.
AUNE: What would you like prospective students to know about the MBA in Sustainability?
Cameren: I don’t think business students will receive the same level of fostering and support in another program. From the cohort to the faculty to the very mission of AUNE, students are encouraged to trust their instincts and passions around sustainability and equity, and find ways to apply them to real-world situations. I have found content and skills to be useful in my work with the adults on campus as well as the kids on campus – there is just so much good stuff you take away from each reading, from each paper, and from each class weekend.