Written by Connie Yoon
The college experience is an integral, formative time for young adults—it is when many students really solidify who they are and what they are passionate about. For Sarah Siedschlag, Environmental Programs Advisor for Associated Students, seeing this constant striving for learning and growth is what makes her job so fulfilling. There is constantly new energy and passion for questioning the status quo, as well as creativity in the way students work to change it, and make the world a better place.
To further the mission of sustainability, it is imperative to supply students with the capability to execute their ideas and bring them to fruition. UCSB empowers a future of sustainable leaders through many channels—one of them being the Associated Students (AS) environmental groups. In Sarah Siedschlag’s role as the Environmental Programs Advisor for AS, she provides student groups focusing on environmental and sustainability projects with the resources and guidance they need to make our planet a little greener. Sarah provides expertise to students on how to navigate the complex, bureaucratic place that is the university.
A few of the groups that she works with are the Coastal Fund, Bike Committee, Environmental Affairs Board, and Environmental Justice Alliance, as well as other projects that AS considers. Sarah has been working on campus since 2012 after receiving her master’s degree at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. As the Environmental Programs Advisor, she guides students throughout the whole process of bringing an idea to fruition. When a student comes to her with an idea they want to implement—such as starting a thrift store or changing university policies around water usage—she is able to set them up for success. Being well-versed in campus operations is essential for her role: from explaining relevant background and history to knowing who to connect students with for help, she helps students consider aspects of their project that they would not have thought of without her guidance.
As the whole world knows, the past year has been challenging and impacted every aspect of how we operate. The remote nature of instruction and being away from campus initially drove a wedge into student organizations’ operations and put a halt to many of the projects that Sarah had been advising. Many of her projects are related to campus infrastructure, which is difficult to see with remote instruction. However, the student organizations that she works with have quickly bounced back and continued their efforts. The AS Bike Committee is currently using this time to repair damaged areas of the campus bike paths—this would be much more disruptive if the paths were being used by students. Other organizations are working on engagement and support for UCSB students, providing social connection. The Environmental Affairs Board is working to create a cultural norm of sustainability through their Sustain-A-Buddies program, giving students a place to talk through things they want to do differently such as reducing waste.
“I’m really passionate about that ability to shift all of our thinking about implications of decisions that we make such as using plastic forks—about shifting mindsets into systems-level thinking and how everything we do relates to everything else,” says Sarah.
Her passion for her job comes from this sentiment: that through these student projects, sustainable mindsets are built. She is able to empower students to change social norms and make people feel proud of their involvement. At the end of the day, everyone on this planet will have a shared outcome. Every choice impacts another, so she feels that it is imperative to think about larger systemic questions when it comes to living sustainably.
When reflecting on her work throughout the year, she remarks, “I’ve just been so impressed by all the students I’ve worked with this year who are still trying to work through and figure out how to be effective and continue what they want to do right now while things are so different.”
Students have figured out the minutiae of navigating online lives to adapt initiatives to the current reality through resilience and effort—and this is ultimately what keeps Sarah excited and passionate about her work. She firmly asserts the idea of interconnectedness. Small efforts made on an individual level are the same that are needed for change on an organizational level, which are then necessary for systemic and national change. Figuring this out with her students gives her hope, and there is no doubt that she is a beacon for the students she advises as well.