Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources and Environment is launching a new initiative, the Sustainability Institute, with its first founding corporate partner, Trane, Dean Paul Winistorfer announced today.

The institute will be a cohort-based professional development program that transitions undergraduate students into workplace-ready professionals who know how to problem solve with a “sustainability lens” and communicate effectively. Institute staff will design the program according to the needs of industry leaders and prepare students to secure positions in an increasingly competitive job market.

Students will engage in applied learning experiences through workshops, hands-on projects with corporate partners, and mentoring. Study abroad opportunities will help students see sustainability challenges and solutions from very different economic, political, and resource-based perspectives.

To ensure an integrative, team-centered environment, the institute will be open to undergraduate students from all of Virginia Tech’s colleges.

“Corporate social responsibility programs and sustainability integration are becoming the new business as usual,” Winistorfer explained. “This program is an innovative example in our college of advancing the science of sustainability.

“We want to help all Virginia Tech students understand how to approach sustainability challenges in the workplace. When we connect classroom learning to real-world applications, students from any academic discipline can become sustainability professionals.”

A recent United Nations study indicates that 76 percent of CEOs believe that embedding sustainability into their core business will drive revenue growth and new opportunities.

“Industry needs graduates who have practical experience with sustainability projects and an understanding of how they can contribute immediately upon hire,” Winistorfer added.

Larry Cummings, Trane’s marketing leader for strategic relationships, said, “Cultivating a ‘sustainability lens’ for decision making will enable students to better compete for jobs, work effectively in teams, and make smarter decisions for their employers.

“Trane and our parent company Ingersoll Rand have had great success hiring Virginia Tech students. In fact, Virginia Tech is one of our top 10 campuses in the country for recruitment, and this particular initiative will only enhance our mutually beneficial relationship. We’re proud of the over 30-year relationship we’ve had with Virginia Tech.”

According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, 65 percent of businesses value environmental and sustainability knowledge in job candidates, and 78 percent said this knowledge would grow in importance as a hiring factor in the next five years.

Winistorfer pointed out that today’s undergraduate students are tomorrow’s workforce. “We need this institute now,” he stressed. “We will launch our first student cohort in the fall 2015 semester.”

Winistorfer has appointed Angie De Soto to direct the institute. De Soto, who earned both a bachelor’s in environmental policy and planning and an executive master of natural resources from Virginia Tech, previously served as the university’s first campus sustainability planner in the Office of Energy and Sustainability. She has been working on sustainability initiatives on campus since 2006.

“Trane is an ideal partner because of its national and local leadership in the energy efficiency sector, as demonstrated by their inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index,” De Soto said.

Trane has developed some of Virginia’s most sophisticated energy projects, incorporating geo-thermal, photovoltaic, combined heat and power, biomass, and wind-turbines. Sustainability has successfully been embedded throughout the organization both internally and into the products and services it provides to businesses and consumers.

“Trane’s commitment as a founding partner and chair of the Sustainability Institute’s Corporate Leadership Team for the first year will be critical for understanding what industry wants and needs from entry-level hires,” De Soto added.

Corporate Leadership Team members will provide critical feedback on what skill sets and competencies undergraduate students need to be sustainability leaders in different industries. The institute will be seeking additional corporate partners to share insight and provide philanthropic support for the program’s operations.

Winistorfer believes the formation of the institute will have a transformative impact on Virginia Tech students — it will connect the classroom to the workplace, build win-win public-private partnerships, and engage the entire campus to implement an innovative approach to professional development.

Trane and Virginia Tech will celebrate their partnership with a kickoff reception in Richmond on April 14 in coordination with the Virginia Energy & Sustainability Conference.

For more information on the Sustainability Institute, email Angie De Soto or call 540-231-5481.

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