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Hanley Sustainability Institute

UD's first sustainability minor, now in Norway, has advice for first majors

By Mark Gokavi

The first 10 University of Dayton Sustainability Program majors begin classes in Spring 2020, about nine years after Mike Voellmecke became UD’s first student with a Sustainability, Energy and the Environment (SEE) minor.

The 2011 graduate with a major in civil and environmental engineering got the sustainability minor by checking his finished courses against the requirements.

“I became very interested in sustainability and environmental issues while I was there, so I started taking electives with that theme,” said Voellmecke, who is a co-founder and business manager at a Norway-based company that works with remote sensing systems for water quality and environmental monitoring.

“I learned that they were going to add the minor and I quickly inquired about it once I saw that I had already taken several courses on the list and wasn’t missing all that many credits in order to complete it.”

Voellmecke was impressed UD went from a minor to a major program with four concentrations in less than a decade, but hopes the curriculum focuses on practical aspects of sustainability, not just theoretical learning.

“I know as a college student I had a very idealistic mindset, but I think making real changes requires finding a way to work within the existing society, given its hesitancy to change and preference for the status quo, and push it in the right direction rather than flip everything upside down at once,” Voellmecke said. “I think (the minor) gave me a broader base and some knowledge in areas outside of my main study area, which is always a benefit. Anything that gets you thinking more and in different ways is sure to be a positive thing.”

After graduation, Voellmecke worked for Dayton-area companies Fondriest Environmental Inc. and NexSens Technology, businesses which worked with environmental monitoring systems and/or data buoy platforms for placing sensors in open water.

After that, Voellmecke moved to Oslo, Norway, to work for Cautus Geo AS, which works on water quality and environmental monitoring. His spinoff distribution company, Measure It AS, imports and sells sensors and equipment for monitoring application.

“The types of applications vary, but most projects are either research-related or with the goal of protecting water quality and aquatic ecosystems on projects that pose a risk to the surrounding environment,” he said. “An example could be construction of a bridge or new building along a waterway, where there is a concern for sediment or chemical emissions into the water, and we set up sensors to detect any significant changes in the water quality.”

Voellmecke, who said his work has taken him to half of the United States, two Canadian provinces and many remote locations around Norway and Sweden, has advice for students majoring in sustainability.

“Think about how the things you will learn can be applied in real-life situations,” he said. “Think big, but think realistic as well. Challenge yourself to take difficult courses, even if you don’t get the highest grade, you may learn the most that will help you professionally.”

Voellmecke is one of several sustainability alumni featured on the Sustainability Program website. Scroll down to UD Sustainability careers.

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