Tyler Sammis, a 2020 graduate of the Duke Environmental Leadership Master of Environmental Management (DEL-MEM) program, recently shared insights into why he pursued a DEL-MEM degree, how the experience has helped in his career, and also his advice for anyone considering the program. 

Sammis is executive director at the Park Institute of America, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Duke’s Nicholas School. 

Why did you get a DEL-MEM degree? 

"I needed to pivot toward more fulfilling and impactful work. I spent 15 years working in a career field that was heavily influenced by the condition of the natural environment. I eventually realized that I was not meeting my obligation to preserve the places I had been and seen for my children. I once heard that you should write your own obituary through your accomplishments, and I hoped that DEL could help me achieve just that."

How did your DEL experience help you in your career? 

"Within my cohort, I met unbelievable friends that were not only in a similar position in life, but they also came to the program with incredible experiences and perspectives vastly different from mine. As somebody looking for a career pivot, the insight these trusted friends provided me about different career pathways (i.e. community-based nonprofits, international development organizations, federal and state agencies, etc.) was invaluable and reassuring.

The program’s leadership seminars demonstrated the potential of driven individuals to steer the entire environmental discourse through conservation and research initiatives across all manners of scope and scale. And even after graduating, the incredible career services staff worked with me to find the ideal position for my needs."

What would you tell a person considering enrolling in the program? 

"First, and I don’t use this word often, the DEL program was genuinely transformational for me. I made many of the best friendships of my life; our cohort was amazing. I established both an academic foundation and useful leadership skills from many of the smartest and most accomplished people I’ve ever met. The program’s leadership component helped me really define and focus goals for my DEL studies, my career, and my life.

Second, the Duke network is strong, both in depth and reach. Even as a military veteran, I think my Duke affiliation has been the most effective networking attribute in my new career in conservation. Regardless of whether a given project is focused on conservation research, policy or law, there seems to always be another Duke alumnus as a stakeholder, contributor and influencer. The Duke connection is real."