Fanny Yang, a second-year student in the Duke Environmental Leadership Master of Environmental Management (DEL-MEM) program, recently shared insights into why she's pursuing her degree, how she balances her studies while working a full-time job and how she's applying what she's learning at work.

Yang serves as Project Specialist, North Coast for the California State Coastal Conservancy.

Why did you pursue the DEL-MEM degree?

I’ve always known that I wanted to pursue a postgraduate degree after working professionally for some time, and I wanted to be able to work and learn simultaneously so that I could take what I learned academically and apply it practically. Out of all the other environmental master's programs I’ve considered applying to, the DEL-MEM was the only one that offered a unique experience of remote learning and occasional place-based sessions. I appreciated this hybrid model as I would be able to still feel like I was a part of the school community while working as a professional. What stood out even more to me was the program’s recognition of how today’s environmental issues are interrelated with other aspects of society and, therefore, require an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving issues such as climate change, ecosystem and biodiversity loss, and developing sustainably.

What’s been the highlight of your time in the program?

I would have to say the highlight of my time in the DEL-MEM program is definitely being able to connect with and learn from my peers who serve as exemplary examples of aspiring environmental leaders (if they aren’t already!) in all sectors of the field. Their sector expertise, whether it’s in stormwater management, renewable energy, mining, ocean exploration, international politics, or green financing, enriches my own learning experience and knowledge when taking courses together while challenging my own concepts of what environmental management looks like. I know that I will have these lifelong connections not just as fellow students in the program, but also professionally. Shout out to my DEL-MEM 22s, 23s, and 24s!

How do you balance your career with your studies?

DEL-MEM-specific courses are designed for working professionals, which makes it easier to balance my career with my studies. I do typically spend my weekends focused on school work, but also I am grateful to have a supportive employer that understands that I’m working and studying full-time. It’s rare for me to take work home, although there may be days I need to travel. DEL courses take place in the evening after standard work hours, and because it’s mainly a remote program, there’s also flexibility to attend remote-based courses within other schools at Duke. Faculty and staff are also supportive and understanding of our commitments outside of school and are always willing to brainstorm with students on how to best succeed in our courses.

How are you applying what you’ve learned to your job?

The DEL-MEM program has taught me to think more critically about environmental management decisions, and in my workspace, it brings up the question of how best can we better conserve and manage California’s coastal resources through the Conservancy’s funding programs. I’ve learned how to structure grant programs and projects with strategic visioning tools gained from DEL’s Environmental Management for Professionals course, and have gained a larger picture understanding of how existing federal environmental laws, like the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Coastal Zone Management Act, influences state regulatory permitting processes that my coastal projects often go through. I also connect current research from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment community—such as implementing nature-based infrastructure examples and knowledge of deep-sea mining—to our agency’s efforts in spearheading the next decade of coastal management policies, integrating them into our grant program and project priorities.