When the first 20 students enrolled in Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources program in Leadership for Sustainability graduate May 13 in the National Capital Region ceremonies, Virginia Tech sustainability planner Angie De Soto will be among them. 

Another Blacksburg resident, town public works director Kelly Mattingly, is in the second class of the innovative program offered through the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

De Soto, a 2009 Virginia Tech alumna, has been involved in developing comprehensive energy-saving and recycling procedures on campus while studying in the intensive 18-month program that emphasizes executive qualifications and leadership skills. The innovative master’s program is the first of its kind in the United States and is composed of experienced professionals who are pioneers and first adopters in the sustainability field.

A new cohort of 16 to 24 students enters the program each January, committing to classroom meetings one weekend a month at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington. With diverse undergraduate degrees and professional expertise in engineering, architecture, environmental science, urban planning, and other fields, the students work in interdisciplinary teams on projects for real-world clients, including organizations such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The inaugural cohort traveled to China for 10 days in March, where they designed a sustainability strategy for the Linden Centre, a leading hotel and educational tourism provider in the Upper Mekong River watershed.

“The whole program has been phenomenal,” De Soto said. “It’s exciting interacting with a multidisciplinary cohort and solving problems together. I go to class and come back thinking differently in ways that help my job here at Virginia Tech. I now understand how important it is to transform the infrastructure and the people in an organization for truly effective change.”

After working six years in the broad field of sustainability, De Soto says the program helped her find her niche — designing and implementing educational programs. In her position with the Office of Energy and Sustainability, De Soto is designing a campus-wide student internship and undergraduate research program in which students help develop creative solutions to campus sustainability challenges while honing their professional skills.

“I’m excited about [Virginia] Tech’s innovative sustainability program because we use our own people to find solutions to our own problems,” she said. “Farther down the road, I’d be interested in exploring sustainability work in China or elsewhere in Asia.”

Mattingly, who has served as Blacksburg’s public works director for 18 years, has been a leader in the town’s sustainability activities for 10 years and was seeking to combine that passion with upgrading his executive leadership and management skills. He found all of that in the executive master’s program.

“Sustainability is a bigger subject than I realized,” he said. “For instance, I’ve learned a lot about marketing sustainability – how you get people to accept a message or change a behavior. Then I go back to Blacksburg and apply it to what I’m doing on the job.

“The program is so interactive — we feed off one another, and this opens my mind to different perspectives,” he added. “It’s fun. It gets my battery recharged. I’d recommend it to anyone of any age.”

Share this story