Making an impact in the world through sustainability

Caitlyn Finnegan

Caitlyn Finnegan


Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

Growing up in a military family, Caitlyn Finnegan lived in several different places throughout her childhood. She experienced different environments with different sustainability challenges and saw the need to address these crucial issues. 

"It's important to preserve the world we're living in," Finnegan said. "I saw how different cities, states and countries can serve their environments and make them better for future generations. 

Finnegan wanted to learn more about sustainability and what she could do to make an impact in the world, so she came to ASU to earn a Bachelor of Science in sustainability from the School of Sustainability in the College of Global Futures, and a minor in urban planning. 

"Ultimately, I chose ASU because the university hosts the nation's first School of Sustainability and is a top-ranked research institution. The School of Sustainability exposes students to a transdisciplinary mentality, essential to solving global issues, which I hoped to develop."

During her time at ASU, Finnegan has become a leader within the school and university. She is president of the Global Futures College Council, an ambassador for the School of Sustainability, and has been part of the School of Sustainability Undergraduate Academy, Sustianabilibuddies Mentorship Program, Honor Society for Sustainability Alpha Chapter, Sun Devil Audubon and Arizona Outdoors Club. She knows the importance of getting involved in a community and how doing so has the power to make a difference.

"I've tried to help close the gap between college leadership and students. Like any institution, the higher-ups are often disconnected from students, causing the students' perspective to be neglected," she said. "The Global Futures College Council recently hosted a lunch with the deans event, where the College of Global Futures' deans, directors and students could connect. The event provided all parties with the space to ask questions and listen to different perspectives. As students, our opinion and experiences should have merit in the colleges' decision-making process because, after all, it is our college."

Finnegan plans to continue making a difference after graduation. She wants to work in corporate sustainability and sustainability consulting to help companies and organizations address sustainability challenges. Her time with the School of Sustainability has taught her how to make an impact.   

"I am forever grateful to the School of Sustainability and everyone in it. I have grown so much as an individual since becoming a part of this community. I appreciate everything the school has given me, including the life lessons that I will continue to use in the future."

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: At ASU, I have learned several fundamental sustainability concepts, with systems thinking being the most prominent. The holistic problem-solving approach has really educated me on the interconnectedness and complexity of the sustainability challenges we are faced with, something I had never considered before.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Senior Lecturer Milan Shrestha transformed my perspective on sustainability, making it more real. In his classes, he challenges his students to think beyond the surface of sustainability challenges and emphasizes the importance of cultivating critical thinking skills. He taught me that you have to look at sustainability challenges from every angle, with a very critical eye, and that the solution often produces a new set of challenges. Most importantly, he gives off a radiating optimism for the future, and as someone who has a slightly pessimistic view, it has been encouraging. Additionally, Assistant Professor Kailin Kroetz, my undergraduate research adviser, indirectly taught me the value of enjoying the people you work with and the community you are a part of. While I thoroughly enjoyed conducting fisheries research, the highlight of my experience was our weekly meetings, starting with off-topic conversations and the opportunity to learn from a passionate professor.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: During the second year of my undergraduate career, a TA advised my class to learn beyond the classroom. He prompted us to explore our meaning of sustainability, our interests and ourselves. He encouraged us to take advantage of the opportunities that ASU and the School of Sustainability provide. As someone who is extremely involved, I can attest that getting involved significantly enhances your college experience.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: One of my favorite spots on campus to study is in Changemaker Central in the Memorial Union. I utilize the space whenever I need to escape into my work; it's super quiet, has a lot of outlets, and always has an open seat. Also, I particularly enjoy walking around campus at night to think about life. The empty campus possesses a certain surrealness that I find to be peaceful.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: With societal disparities becoming more prevalent, I would attempt to tackle one of the several social injustices currently taking place. It is challenging to narrow down the most prevalent social injustice issue, as there are countless; however, I would attempt to tackle both water and food insecurity. Globally, more than 785 million people do not have access to clean drinking water, and roughly 720 million people face hunger and undernourishment — two chilling statistics. Hopefully, the 40 million dollars could provide humanitarian aid to those whose basic human needs are not being met.

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