“It’s been amazing to have each day filled with endless opportunities for intercultural interaction and learning. Both the Fulbright and Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program really prepare you to come back with a much wider worldview than before.”
First job out of FS: Fellow, The Fulbright Program
When the global pandemic locked down international travel and postponed her fellowship in 2020, Sierra Stephens (BA ‘20) took time to reflect on her long-term goals. She turned her car into a camper and set out to explore national parks in the southwest United States.
“Two days before I left on my trip, the San Francisco sky turned orange (from wildfire smoke),” Stephens recalled. “I knew I wanted to work in policy, and I wanted it to be climate policy. But I don’t think I had ever truly been confronted with reflecting on the personal importance of the work to me until that moment. Driving through the southwest, I had a lot of time to reflect on the gravity of immediate climate action, sitting in these beautiful and vast protected desert lands.”
It was then that she decided no matter where she was, she would commit herself to climate policy and action.
As a Fulbright Fellow in Spain (2021), she taught Model United Nations at a secondary school and picked up a part-time internship as a sustainability consultant at Alamo Solutions.
“That was the first time I entered the sustainability consulting sphere. We were working on client projects about things like electromobility and the voluntary carbon market,” Stephens said. “I remember feeling so excited about the work.”
Following the conclusion of her Fulbright fellowship, she entered the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program for Young Professionals. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and sends 75 fellows to study, work and engage in cultural diplomacy in Germany. While there, she studied sustainable business and public economies with an EU-focus at the University of Bonn.
Her current role—as a Corporate Sustainability and Climate Change Intern at Environmental Resources Management in Hamburg, Germany—allows her to work with clients who want to incorporate sustainability into their business. Stephens hopes that helping companies understand EU regulations and adopt new sustainability strategies will mitigate the climate change effects on communities.
“There’s also many companies who are not covered by EU regulations who realize that the best investment a business can make right now is in a sustainable future,” she explained. “I love working in this regulatory environment because everything’s changing so rapidly it keeps you on your toes.”
Stephens credits the Ford School with equipping her with stakeholder and policy analysis skills to help her understand the dynamic arena.
“It feels like every single day, when I’m going to work, there’s always a new article or a new reporting framework or a new groundbreaking concept that we need to think about,” she said. “I definitely feel like I’m using these policy analysis skills, assessing stakeholder’s needs, and working to find creative and feasible solutions—the skills that the Ford School really helps you with—almost every day at work.”
She also participated in the Ford School’s International Policy Center Global Engagement seminar on sustainable development in Costa Rica. Stephens connected with community members and researchers to learn about how they address sustainability issues locally. She said it was life-changing to connect with local stakeholders in that way.
When the fellowship concludes Stephens hopes to continue working on climate policy internationally. “Climate change mitigation is such a global issue,“ she said. “It doesn’t affect just one community. And it will continue to affect communities at an increasing rate.”
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