by Vanessa Santos, Intern – Advancing Green Building Initiative, Second Nature

As a recent college graduate with just one year of experience in the “real world,” I have a lot of questions I tend to ask myself on a daily basis.

Amid that unknown abyss that faces most fresh college graduates, I find most of my questions start with the word “what:” What can I do with my college degree? What can I afford to buy and eat for dinner tonight? And most importantly for me, what can I do that will make a positive and lasting impact on our society and the world?

The 2010 Advancing Green Building Team in San Antonio, TX

 The 2010 Advancing Green Building Team in San Antonio, TX

Before stepping into the Second Nature office for the first time in February of 2010, my knowledge of sustainability was pretty limited. Though I was eager to learn more, in my mind, the vague concept was associated with phrases like: “global warming,” “saving the planet,” and “sounds cool.” Sure, I recycled, tried to conserve energy for a lower monthly bill, and believed in social equity for all groups of people, but how does this all tie together and what does this have to do with sustainability?Admittedly, these aren’t easy questions for anyone to answer. A few months before graduating Boston University in 2010, I made a one-year commitment to an internship at Second Nature, deciding that this would be the first small professional step I would take to being able to answer all these questions.

To my surprise, I was chosen as one of two interns to participate in the second year-long phase of Second Nature’s Advancing Green Building Initiative, which worked for two years total to build the capacity of under-resourced colleges and universities to build green on their campuses.

With only my limited understanding of sustainability to keep me afloat at the start of this new position and an eagerness to learn as much as possible, it’s not surprising I was a bit overwhelmed during my first day at Second Nature, when my fellow intern and I were thrown into the waters of sustainability work in higher education. It was exciting work that I couldn’t wait to be a part of, but I immediately found myself lost among more “what” questions, the most basic being what exactly does Second Nature do, and what can I do to help them?

Now, after a little over a year of mistakes, challenges and some of my proudest accomplishments, I find myself at the end of my internship at Second Nature and facing the beginning of another big transition in my life. I still have a lot of questions I’m asking myself, but after my internship, these questions seem to have evolved. Second Nature helped me see a lot of “what” was around me, and now forces me to ask the “why.” Why are we depleting the Earth’s resources and manipulating our biosphere to a point of no return? Why are there still over a billion people living in poverty around the world? Why, in our effort to achieve economic growth, are we facing one of the worst economic recessions of our time? Once I start asking these why questions, what I’m doing becomes even more important.

So, why do I work?

I work because when my parents immigrated to this country, they had dreams for a better life for themselves and for me. They may never have heard the word “sustainability,” but the world and the America they envisioned for us was one of prosperity, equality and opportunity for all current and future generations. I believe in the necessity and urgency of finding answers and solutions to all these important questions we face as a society, so that we can create the world that we aspire to live in. I am one of the many people Second Nature’s work has impacted. I am one of many whose eyes are now open to the reality we are living in and the opportunity we have to make a new and better reality. I am committed to spreading this message and creating these solutions in whatever form of work I do in my future.

Thank you to Second Nature for this experience. Though I entered this organization in confusion and uncertainty, I leave now with direction and a purpose – with a reason for working.