For the past three months, student employees in the College of William and Mary Office of Sustainability have continued their commitment to integrative sustainability in the face of several administrative vacancies in the Office.
In Aug. 2022, former Director of Sustainability Calandra Waters Lake left the office after serving as director for over eight years. Following Waters Lake’s departure, the two other non-undergraduate, full-time employees — Graduate Assistant Maddie Saul and Data Analyst Anusha Komati — also left the Office of Sustainability in Fall 2022. These three vacancies have yet to be officially filled.
“Calandra Waters Lake was instrumental in the success of the first years of the Office of Sustainability, and William and Mary owes her a debt for her great work in building many of our programs from the ground up,” Sean Hughes, the College’s Interim Associate Vice President for Business Services and Organizational Excellence, wrote in an email statement to The Flat Hat.
Co-Chair of the Committee of Sustainability, biology professor and Faculty Director of the Institute for Integrative Conservation John Swaddle helps advise student employees of the Office of Sustainability on the College’s environmental matters. Swaddle explained that the delay in hiring a new director of sustainability is tied to several other openings and movements within the broader College administration.
“As the COO and VP for Strategy and Innovation left, those two positions had to be filled first before we could fill the Director of Sustainability,” Swaddle said. “So that delayed things. It wasn’t really anybody’s fault. The university is not downplaying the role of sustainability. It’s sort of a confluence of unfortunate events.”
Hughes currently oversees the Office of Sustainability in his role as Interim Associate Vice President for Business Services and Organizational Excellence. Hughes explained the hiring process for Director of Sustainability and noted William and Mary Sustainability’s switch to University Operations.
“A search is currently underway for a new director of sustainability, and we will announce when it is complete,” Hughes wrote. “The office shifted from the former Office of Strategic Initiatives and Public Affairs (now Strategy and Innovation) to Business Services and Organizational Excellence within Operations, at the same time that Sustainability was transitioning its leadership. I am leading the search and overseeing operations in Sustainability in the interim. The Green Fee fund is still intact, and the regular funding process will continue once a full-time director is hired.”
Sophie Pittaluga ’23 is the marketing student manager and most senior member of the Office of Sustainability. She explained that the shift could be a contributing factor to the hiring delay.
“I think the idea with that shift was, we’re trying to meet the 2030 carbon neutrality goal with UVA, and so I think the idea was to move us to operations so that we could cut down on our carbon emissions,” Pittaluga said. “Which, I think, is really awesome. So, when they’re hiring the new director, they’re looking for someone to do both sustainability and energy management, which has been another shift and a reason why the hiring of the director has been so delayed.”
Hughes echoed Pittaluga in reference to the move.
“Ultimately, having the Office of Sustainability working in closer daily collaboration with key units that perform infrastructure upgrades and other projects supported by the Office offers significant efficiencies and benefits,” Hughes wrote. “It made sense to establish the office in Strategic Initiatives; due in no small part to Calandra’s leadership, the office has matured and now meshes best within Operations.”
Swaddle anticipates that the hiring committee will choose the new Director of Sustainability soon.
“We are currently in the final stages of searching for the replacement person,” Swaddle said. “We should have a final candidate very soon, like within the next couple of weeks.”
The Office of Sustainability is currently made up of 14 student employees and interns. The Office of Sustainability and the Committee on Sustainability are the two sub-groups that make up William and Mary Sustainability.
Sydney Thayer ’24 serves as a student committee member for the Committee on Sustainability and is the Secretary for Sustainability of Student Assembly. As Secretary for Sustainability, Thayer also sits in on the weekly meetings of the Office of Sustainability. Thayer voiced concern about the pace of the hiring process for the Director of Sustainability.
“I think that when Calandra left at the end of last year, she seemed to think that by the fall, pretty much they would hire a new director over the summer,” Thayer said. “And by the time we got back in the fall, the office would continue operating as normally. And it’s February now.”
While specifically praising the work of professors like Swaddle and students like Pittaluga, Thayer said that this slower hiring process could have broader implications on the priority of sustainability within the College administration.
“In my background of sustainability at William and Mary, every sustainability initiative that I have ever seen empowered is 100% backed by students, not backed by administrators,” Thayer said. “And if students weren’t pushing sustainability initiatives forward, nothing would be happening, at least in my view.”
Thayer mentioned that she appreciates the administration making sustainability a core pillar, but still thinks there is further progress to be made.
Swaddle has been a professor at the College for 23 years and said that even though the Office of Sustainability is experiencing this staffing hiatus, the College is prioritizing sustainability now more than ever.
“The consequence of sustainability being a core component of the strategic plan for the university is that there will be more staffing in the office after all of this,” Swaddle said.
Given the Oct. 2022 proposal for a housing development project in the College Woods area, students and faculty alike have been vocal about sustainability concerns surrounding the College.
Swaddle noted that student frustrations are being heard.
“I think it’s good for the administration to know that there is frustration from the students,” Swaddle said. “I think that it’s an indication of a hunger and desire to achieve things together. I think that it will encourage the administration to further invest in what the students want and a sustainable future.”
Pittaluga noted that the interim period without a Director of Sustainability has been difficult for the student employees of the Office of Sustainability, but that it has also forced them to realize their individual potential.
“It’s definitely harder because in my first two years it was very much Calandra [Waters Lake] giving me tasks and then I did them, and I think that was very similar with the other students,” Pittaluga said. “We had more of an agenda of what to do and a timeline. She was really on top of her stuff and she was also super knowledgeable about everything that we did. And I think what we started to realize now is that a lot of us are very knowledgeable in our areas of sustainability and what we do.”
Pittaluga also noted that as a senior at the College, she feels very confident in the new generations of interns for the Office.
“I think we’ve shown how resilient we can be despite the circumstances,” Pittaluga said. “And again, with the hiring of the new interns in the fall, I think that came at a really perfect time because it gave us a lot of hope.”
According to Pittaluga, although Green Fee processing has been suspended while there is no director, the students of the Office of Sustainability are still hard at work, meeting weekly to discuss environmental initiatives and projects. Currently, the office is continuing to track progress on the Sustainability Plan, reporting on greenhouse gas emissions for the past year, tending to the campus gardens, continuing the ongoing Students Uniting for Sustainable Training, Adaption, Innovation and Networking program and preparing for upcoming events like the Earth Day Bash and Sustainability Career Panels with alumni.