Photo of CMC sustainability studies graduates

From left, Mikayla Curtis, Nikki Maline and Bailey Matthews have all landed jobs using the knowledge they gained from studying sustainability at CMC in Edwards. Photo Ed Kosmicki

Students in CMC’s sustainability program graduate to successful careers

By Carrie Click

Nikki Maline arrived in Eagle County from Nebraska in 1997 with an Associate of Arts degree from Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte. Since then, she’d gone into real estate. She received her real estate broker associate license with the state of Colorado in 2005, but something wasn’t right for her.

That’s when she decided to earn her bachelor’s degree in sustainability studies at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards. She graduated in May 2015.

“It was so perfect,” she said of studying sustainability. “It made such sense to me.”

Today, Maline is the energy programs coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, where a number of CMC students, graduates and faculty have either worked, interned or been associated, such as its founder, Kim Langmaid.

Now 41, Maline, with her sustainability studies degree in hand, says her whole world has turned around.

“I love my job,” she said of her work, which includes serving as an energy coach for individuals and businesses. “It’s a totally different working environment than real estate. I can make a difference.”

Early education to sustainable solar energy

Coincidentally, Bailey Matthews also came to Eagle County from Nebraska. After getting her associate degree from Western Nebraska Community College, she came to Colorado and taught special education at Battle Mountain High School for seven years. All the while, Matthews took night classes at Colorado Mountain College.

Like Maline, however, Matthews was looking for a different focus in her life, so when she learned that the college offered a bachelor’s degree in sustainability studies, she registered for the program.

“One of the things I liked about getting my degree with CMC’s sustainability program,” Matthews, 32, said, “was that there was no preaching. Mercedes [Associate Professor of Sustainability Studies Dr. Mercedes Quesada-Embid] is brilliant. She teaches without judgment. She gives her students the power to decide. And it was affordable. I was able to graduate without a huge student loan.”

Since Matthews graduated last May, she has moved from elementary education to solar energy. Today, she’s the solar project manager at Active Energies in Minturn, working with a team consulting, designing and building solar systems for residential and commercial construction.

And there’s another advantage.

“I can bring my dog to work,” she said with a smile.

Sustainability in all its forms

Mikayla Curtis already had two college degrees when she decided to study for a sustainability leadership certificate. A native of the Vail Valley and an alumna of Vail Christian High School, she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Puget Sound and her master’s degree in negotiation, conflict resolution and peacebuilding from California State University, Dominquez Hills.

Because of her interest and past experience in family and youth development – she had overseen leadership development programs for SOS Outreach in Edwards, for example – Curtis was most interested in studying sustainable social science, such as food systems and cultural equity.

“The certificate program pieced together a little bit of everything,” Curtis, 32, said. “It relates to sustainable family structures, and what kind of priorities are needed for social equity.”

While completing the certificate’s 15 credit hours in December 2014, Curtis accepted a position as the resource development coordinator, and more recently as the manager of strategic impact at Eagle River Youth Coalition in Edwards, which collaborates with other organizations to build strong community support for youth.

For Maline, Matthews and Curtis, though their careers are in diverse areas such as energy and science education, solar and green building, or providing youth with ongoing opportunities, sustainability links them all together.

“[Our careers] are all intertwined and connected,” said Maline.