In Spotlights

Nicole Gaetjens, Sustainability Coordinator, Mills College

Nicole Gaetjens is a transplant from Hawaii working full-time as the Sustainability Coordinator at Mills College in Oakland, California. Her role includes a bit of everything – from supervising 10+ student interns on transportation, water, and other projects, to writing a Climate Action Plan, to teaching a Green & Healthy Living course filled with guest speakers and workshops. She is also the Board Secretary of SCRAP, a nonprofit creative reuse depot and workshop hub in San Francisco. (Among other things, she is recruiting new Board members, so let her know if you are interested!)

How did you become interested in environmental work?

I’d always been interested in social impact, and in some ways you could say my interest in the environment was a process of elimination. My direct service in areas like poverty and mental health hit too close to home to be sustainable (no pun intended) as a full-time endeavor. I wanted to continue addressing these issues, but in a way that kept me energized. And so I thought, what better way than focusing on the very foundation of any promising future – a healthy planet? When I began environmental action, I felt personally empowered, and was excited to empower others. I saw environmental stewardship as an opportunity for anyone in the community – whatever their circumstances – to contribute to a better world. As a kid, I basked in counting the ways I was “saving” the planet each day, and seeing the pride in my peers who did the same. Whenever I start feeling jaded about the setbacks in the environmental movement, I think back to that optimism, and know that fire can continue to be lit in us all.

What is the educational and career path that led to your current career?

At Stanford, I received a B.S. in Atmosphere/Energy Engineering – a degree within the Civil and Environmental Engineering department that focused on air pollution, climate change, and renewable energy. I then went straight into an M.S. in Earth Systems, which was essentially Environmental Science and Policy. My goal was to get a big-picture and technical understanding of environmental challenges to inform work focused on solution implementation. Prior to my current role, I worked for an electronics recycling company, and then for Alameda County as the Green Purchasing Associate. My full-time work at Mills is combined with part-time schooling at Mills as I wrap up my MBA.

What environmental issues are of most concern to you?

I’m pretty obsessed with trash. I love learning about, and working on, waste reduction throughout the supply chain. In my personal life this has translated into a commitment to minimalism and secondhand consumption – including the leftovers of my friends’ plates.