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Sustainability grad changes with the world

November 14, 2013

When you grow up in Mexico, the surest path to success is to know somebody. At least, that was Emma Huizar-Felix’s impression.

Huizar-Felix has connections. Her mother owns a school. Her father supplies dry cleaning companies across Mexico. But Huizar-Felix knew that her route to success would require her to leave her hometown.

“For young people in Mexico to start on their own path, it’s really hard. If I had stayed there, I would always have worked in my Mom’s business, or my Dad’s,” says Huizar-Felix. “I didn’t really want that. I wanted to grow more and be able to prove to myself I can do a lot on my own.”

And so Huizar-Felix, a graduate of CETYS High School in Baja California, Mexico, came to Arizona. She attended Mesa Community College (MCC) for two years and earned an associate’s degree in science. But Huizar-Felix was still looking for more.

She had become interested in civil engineering at MCC, so Huizar-Felix looked to Arizona State University for its excellent engineering program. Ultimately, she found herself majoring in design and minoring in landscape architecture.

A year before graduation, Huizar-Felix began working more with sustainable materials, green construction principles and renewable energy. "Those things really, really interested me. I realized, with all the courses I'd taken, it would take me only one more year to graduate with a double-major in sustainability."

In spring of 2012, Huizar-Felix graduated from Arizona State University virtually loan-free. She had worked for a university research program throughout her time at ASU, while double-majoring and picking up a minor.

It's a common theme when you talk with Huizar-Felix. She does what needs to be done, no matter how difficult, to get to the future she seeks. Move away from family to go to school. Double major to get the education you want. Work hard to avoid loans. Learn everything you can in the job you have, so you can apply it to the job you want.

When Huizar-Felix graduated from ASU's School of Sustainability, she took a job with a staffing company, doing environmental analysis. Months later, that job moved to Milwaukee; Huizar-Felix wanted to stay in Arizona. She accepted a position doing accounts receivable for the same company, and she works there still.

True to what you might expect about Huizar-Felix, she is learning everything she can in her position, with plans to apply her knowledge when she one day returns to Mexico.

If not directly related to sustainability, her current role requires analytical skills and an eye for improving processes. It also offers stable income and great benefits, like courses toward the Dow Jones Sustainability Index license.

Another thing the position offers is connections. Her staffing company works with large energy companies, and Huizar-Felix looks for opportunities to expand her network.

“My degrees and job experiences have gotten me to where I am today,” says Huizar-Felix. If a great opportunity comes along, “someone in my network might get me in the door for an interview.” She knows it will be her knowledge and experience that ultimately determine whether she is hired.

Huizar-Felix doesn’t have any regrets about her educational path or her work experience. “Companies will need people who are not just dedicated to sustainability but can also support existing functions in the company,” she says.

One day, Huizar-Felix hopes to open her own business, helping lower energy costs for businesses across Mexico – like her mother’s school or the dry cleaning companies her father supports – through renewable energy installations.

Until then, she’ll work to expand her skills – and her connections – here in the United States.

“There is time for everything. Keeping an open mind will help narrow down for me what I want to spend every day doing,” says Huizar-Felix.

“The world keeps changing. Either you stay stubborn, or you change with the world.”   

Michelle Schwartz
Global Institute of Sustainability