This article previously appeared in Chatham’s Recorder alumni magazine.
As part of the first cohort of Chatham’s Masters of Sustainability program, James Snow loved “embracing the ‘newness’”. “It was a great opportunity to not only help craft the program, but also to be able to gain opportunities from something so new.” Snow said the faculty and curriculum ensured that the students were out in the field, having hands on, real life experiences. He said, “That is a critical element to being placed in a job after graduation.”
Snow is currently a project manager for the environmental nonprofit GTECH: Growth Through Energy + Community Health. With more than 40,000 vacant lots in Allegheny County, many of which attract crime, decrease property values and reduce community cohesion, GTECH’s work to transform these spaces cultivates the unrealized potential of people and places to improve the health of our communities is vital. Through this process, GTECH offers an opportunity for residents to take pride in their community and land. Play spaces, parks, community gardens, and storm water installations are some of the types of projects imagined by residents, meaning what once was a blighted liability, is transformed into a useful asset. “We focus of the intersection of community development and the economy while identifying community health issues and working on solutions,” Snow says proudly. He was an intern at GTECH while at Chatham, prior to transitioning to a full time employee following graduation.
As Snow reflects upon his time at Chatham, one of his early classes stands out. “In one of our first sustainability classes we were assigned a watershed project that included three different hydrologic systems in Allegheny County. One was urban, one suburban, one rural. We were looking at how when you look at a macro problem, like water run off or storm water, you have to be able to work up and down the scale to find a solution. We had to study everything from what kind of community this was, to who lives here, to what’s the geography and terrain like.
It was so helpful to look at these large, complex problems and then break down the context, then put it back together to craft the solution. It’s not only about different groups, people and backgrounds, but it’s also about taking all those pieces and putting it back together for a final product,” he notes.
Chatham provided Snow with the opportunity to get out in the field and experience real world situations and environments. His experience working directly with people and all different social and economic backgrounds was critical in developing a holistic view of sustainability and community development. “Chatham is a big enough program to obtain resources, but it’s small enough to build really close relationships,” Snow says. This allowed Snow to truly understand the world he’d be working and making a difference in.
Chatham’s Master of Sustainability (MSUS) program prepares enterprising students with the tools necessary to be the agents of change that corporations, governments, and other organizations need to lead their sustainability initiatives. The program and its focus on real-world impact is inspired by environmental icon and Chatham alumna Rachel Carson ’29, whose own work over 50 years ago continues to impact the world.