In June, Craig von Freymann will receive his master's degree in business from UC Irvine. That's the good news. The bad news is that the $52,000 bill for his sheepskin is about to become due and payable.
Von Freymann, 31, worries that his student loan payments (which could be as high as $700 a month) will severely crimp his career plans. He would like to land a public-interest job, perhaps with an environmental advocacy organization. But starting salaries in the field are notoriously modest.
Would the idealistic Huntington Beach resident find himself struggling to meet financial obligations on $20,000 a year, while his fellow MBAs deliberate over options for their new luxury cars? Or is there some way von Freymann can make a difference in the world and a decent living, too?
For help, von Freymann consulted Mark Albion, a former Harvard Business School professor, and the founder of You & Co., a Dover, Mass.-based career-management company that helps MBAs create fulfilling work lives.
Albion assured von Freymann that well-paying environmental advocacy jobs do exist.
"In the past, you'd sometimes have to take a hit in salary if you pursued a socially responsible career, but in the last 10 years that's changed," Albion said. "Environmental issues are one of the top three concerns of CEOs right now."
The soon-to-be graduate's challenge will be to find out where he "fits," Albion said.
While von Freymann explores career opportunities, he can take environment-related course work, network with people in the industry, and perhaps volunteer with nonprofits such as the Surfrider Foundation or the Environmental Defense Fund. That would boost his marketability, Albion said. Some organizations, such as the Ecological Society of America, offer paid internships.
Albion referred to these preparatory steps as "creating a platform, then leaping." Leaping involves risk-taking, he said. And von Freymann initially may have to accept a low wage or move to another city, possibly Washington, because most environmental agencies and advocacy groups are located there.
Additionally, Albion warned, von Freymann should avoid the mistake that thousands of people make: working for good pay in a job they can't stand.
"Don't get really good at something you don't want to do," Albion said.
For the last six years, while working toward his degree at night, von Freymann has been employed as a special investigator at the State Bar of California. He says he enjoys this work, which allows him to help people who may have received unfair treatment from attorneys. The pay is good, too--about $44,000 a year. But because he does not have a law degree, von Freymann says opportunities for promotion are limited.
Nonetheless, von Freymann says he might stay at the State Bar even after he graduates in June. That would allow him to explore the environmental-protection field or other public-interest vocations, while collecting a decent paycheck.
Here's what Albion and other experts also suggested for von Freymann:
Enroll in environmental studies courses. A basic knowledge of environmental sciences is mandatory for people entering this field, experts say.
"You really need to know enough about science and technology to be able to talk to chemists or engineers [about environmental issues]," said John Morelli, chair of the Environmental Management Department at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
More universities are offering programs in environmental management and policy. RIT recently introduced an Internet-based environmental health and safety management program. But nearly all such schools require science prerequisites such as chemistry, biology or geology of their matriculating students.
Explore diverse environmental advocacy professions. "The field has dramatically switched in the past few years from needing only technologists to needing people with a wide variety of backgrounds," said Richard Young, executive director of the National Registry of Environmental Professionals.
That's because, as Albion noted, environmental issues are affecting companies as never before.
"Because corporations are being subjected to very strict EPA regulations right now, people who can optimize business within these constraints are very valuable," said professor Micha Tomkiewicz, director of the environmental studies program at Brooklyn College in New York.
Marketing experts who can help promote new "green" technologies also are in big demand, said George Korfiatis, director of the Center of Environmental Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. "That's what I see as the hotbed right now," he said.
New positions, such as environmental affairs director and senior environmental policy advisor, are being created at large companies that need to monitor the environmental impact of their activities. American corporations may soon even have chief environmental officers.