Opinion

Q&A with Melanie Feeney on why she chose to study sustainability

Melanie Feeney recently graduated from the Master of Sustainability Program at The University of Sydney, she sat down with Lucy Taylor for a chat about why she chose to study sustainability and what she got out of it.

Melanie Feeney recently graduated from the Master of Sustainability Program at The University of Sydney, she sat down with Lucy Taylor for a chat about why she chose to study sustainability and what she got out of it. The Sustainability program has been developed in collaboration with the University’s sustainability experts and industry professionals from a range of areas. In order to address the complexity of challenges to sustainability, the program is multidisciplinary and involves most faculties at the University. Core units address the breadth of sustainability, including health and population, energy and resources, food and water security, policy, society and change, and analysis tools. Sustainability jobs are quickly becoming a key area of employment growth in Australia

What led you to doing the Master of Sustainability? 

I did my undergraduate degree in public health, so I was always interested in capacity building and community development work. But I finished my undergraduate degree saying I would never do more study. Then I moved countries and felt that I wanted more big picture and environmental knowledge, so I went back to do the Master of Sustainability in Sydney. I wanted to expand on the knowledge that I had and fill in any gaps.

The big picture for me is the understanding that there are no silos. If you’re interested in doing something that’s going to achieve change then you need the social and community engagement aspect, but you also need to understand the environmental and economic aspects as well. Basically, I believe that everything, society, the environment, business, government, should be considered when attempting to tackle some of the big issues we are faced with today.

I thought social-environmental change was going to exist separate to business, but I’ve recently learnt that it has to exist with business. Understanding sustainability outcomes from a business perspective is an important skill to have.

What is the best part about the degree? Why? 

The best thing about the degree is that it offers a background on so many different areas of knowledge and covers so many different topics. It’s generalised enough that you can come from any background and take the parts that you want to learn from. There is a lot of variety.

Tell us about what you did for your capstone project and how you found the experience of doing a capstone project.

I worked with an Aboriginal organisation, the North West Land Trust. They had been handed over two parcels of Aboriginal-owned land and wanted to explore viable uses of the land. The main objective was to create local Aboriginal skill development and employment opportunities on country. To do that I looked at wind, solar and biofuel activities to see which would engage the community the most and meet the desired objectives. In collaboration with the Trust, I developed recommendations and a draft business plan for a community-owned biofuels enterprise. This gave them the material they needed to start applying for funding and further explore the first stages of the enterprise.

I thought that the capstone was the first time throughout the degree where I was able to utilise the skills I’d developed in the classroom and apply them in a ‘real world’ environment. It’s hard to piece together what you learn and how you use it, but it gave me the opportunity to put theory into practice. It also gave me the opportunity to go and work with a remote, Aboriginal community that was a completely eye opening and inspiring experience that will probably shape the way my career will go.

How has the Master of Sustainability impacted your life – has it made a difference and/or do you plan to use it to make a difference? 

I always knew that I was passionate about sustainability, but I had no idea how to enter the sustainability space as a career. It seemed daunting to find a job in this area, but the Master of Sustainability gave me the skills to pursue my career, a career I’m passionate about.

I wouldn’t have felt confident to do the capstone if I hadn’t already done the coursework, and without having done the capstone I wouldn’t have had the confidence in my skills to take on a role in the sustainability space. I probably wouldn’t have applied for these types of jobs without having done the degree or the capstone.

Image: supplied by Lucy Taylor