Online Energy & Environmental Management Master’s Students


Thomas (Tom) Dougherty is passionate about helping his community. He is also passionate about the environment. Even though his undergraduate degree was in an unrelated field, Tom took the leap to pursue an environmental career path by enrolling in the Online Master’s of Energy and Environmental Management (MEEM) program at the University of Connecticut (UConn). Recently graduating, Tom is now deeply immersed in a career he loves, combining his dual passions as he works to support environmental change in his community.

“If you’ve graduated with a degree from a different field but you’re passionate about the environment, definitely go for it. You’re going to be in good hands. At first, I was kind of apprehensive, but it was definitely the right choice. It opened a huge door in my career path. I think this program will carry anyone into a good path.” – Thomas (Tom) Dougherty, Online Master’s of Energy and Environmental Management (MEEM), Graduate Spring 2023

Shifting Paths and Opening Doors

After graduating with a BA in Sociology and minor in Criminal Justice, Tom realized he was not actually interested in pursuing a career in that field. As an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for seven years, Tom knew he was passionate about helping his community. He also knew he was passionate about the environment, and he began wondering how he could bring these passions together: “I always wanted to make a difference, so I really started looking into environmental career paths because that’s something I’ve always been passionate about, and it’s a way to help your community on a macro level.”

Researching online, Tom discovered the Online Master’s of Energy and Environmental Management (MEEM) program at UConn. From that first moment of reaching out to explore the possibility, Tom felt supported by Dr. Chadwick (Chad) Rittenhouse, director of the program, in navigating his potential pathways. “I talked to Chad. He guided me through the process of whether I should get the full graduate degree or just that smaller, 4-course Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management (SEPM) Certificate. We came to the conclusion that the Master’s program would be more beneficial because I didn’t have a background in the environmental world. I think that decision really was the right one because it was more comprehensive for me, especially as someone who had never encountered the environmental field in the past.”

Professors flexible and understanding

Taking the leap, Tom began the 30-credit Master’s program in spring 2021, recently graduating in spring 2023. The fact that the program is completely online made it an ideal fit for Tom, enabling him to continue to work full-time as an EMT. While initially apprehensive about juggling school, work and life, Tom says the flexibility and support provided by his professors made everything manageable. “I was taking two classes per semester; one semester it was three classes. But I was able to work 40 hours, sometimes more, and still get these classes done. The professors were flexible and understanding if anything came up. I think they really understand that when you take a Master’s program, you’re also dealing with life, so they do a great job adapting to everyone’s needs.”

Personally tailored support from faculty

Throughout the program, Tom felt supported by the faculty in ways that enhanced his capacity to learn more deeply. “All the professors were very supportive. They definitely took the time to make sure you knew what you were doing. They didn’t just grade something; they actually talked you through it if you needed help. They gave you opportunities to revise your work, and they were very reasonable. I think that’s a better strategy to get people to genuinely learn and figure out what they’re doing.”

Tom especially appreciated the level of personalized guidance he received from his advisor. “The advisor meetings were very helpful and felt very personal as well, especially with him knowing that I was brand new to the environmental field. They really get to know you and figure out what is best for you. My advisor, Chad, was able to talk to me for an hour at a time if I needed about what paths I could go down. There are so many paths in the environmental field, and he talked me through that based on my passions.”

Valuable learning from peers via online discussion

While the program is completely asynchronous, students participate in weekly discussion forums via the HuskyCT/Blackboard platform. For Tom, these discussions enhanced his learning on multiple levels. “Blackboard gave me the opportunity to discuss the assignments with my classmates and my professor in a productive manner. I think those discussion boards really offered an opportunity to develop our knowledge, because you’re hearing from everybody else, not just doing your work and posting it.”

While Tom was new to the environmental field, many of his peers were not. So the discussion board became an opportunity to learn not just in terms of content, but also insider jargon. “They were using acronyms, terms, sustainable ideas that I was able to look into. I would see a word, or a term or acronym that I didn’t know before, and I would google it. I was building my knowledge in the field just by reading the discussion boards that other students had posted. So not only was the educational material from the professor helpful, I think reading other students’ work was very useful and valuable.”

Three credentials in one shot

One of the most appealing aspects of the program for Tom was the opportunity to earn two additional online certificates while completing the Master’s program – with no additional costs or time requirements. Tom chose to earn both. “I’ve always been a planner at heart, so the Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management (SEPM) Graduate Certificate was really intriguing to me. I also earned the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Graduate Certificate, which is basically a technology mapping certificate. That’s really in demand in the environmental field, and not a lot of people know how to do it. I thought that was really intriguing as well, and it really gave me an upper hand in the job market. So basically, rather than going and getting a whole separate GIS certificate and a separate SEPM certificate, I was able to just get everything done in one shot.”

Internships: Getting your foot in the door

One requirement of the MEEM program is to complete an internship (NRE 5830) or practicum (NRE 5850). After Tom completed a paid internship as a Sustainability Planner for the Town for Manchester, he figured it wouldn’t hurt to do a second internship. So while not required, he completed a second internship as a Communication Planner for Clean Water Action. This opportunity to jump into doing work in the field helped Tom feel increasingly confident that he’d made the right choice. “The further along I got into the program, the more I realized this was the right path. With anyone, I think it’s reasonable for someone to be scared to enter a new path when they don’t really know a lot about it, but I think that this program definitely reassured me that something was going to happen afterwards, especially with the internships. It kind of gave me job security before I even landed a new job.”

Indeed, completing these internships has proven pivotal to launching Tom’s environmental career. Just two months after graduating with his Master’s, Tom landed his new job as an Environmental Planner for the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, one of nine regional governments in Connecticut. As Tom explains, “A lot of the people I work with have already had environmental jobs in the past. I didn’t. But I think just the fact that I was able to do two internships through the reputation of UConn got me in the door to this job. I think the connections that UConn brings to the table really help you when you’re building your resume and help you get your foot in the door for building your career.”

In addition to the knowledge, skills and experience he gained through the MEEM program, Tom explains that having the credential from UConn gave him a huge advantage entering the workforce. “UConn is very respected in the environmental community: The fact that everyone knows UConn and everyone uses their services, and their data, and their expertise already is a huge advantage. I think that really helped me when I was applying to jobs and made me a good candidate. I think, in Connecticut especially, the environmental community sees that UConn has a good reputation in terms of environmental work. I’ve seen that through many organizations that I work with. They really like to see someone who has been involved with UConn.” 

Using knowledge and skills everyday

The knowledge and skills Tom learned in his courses have proven invaluable to his everyday practices in the field. While all the courses feel relevant for him, a few in particular stand out. “The GIS classes and the structured decision-making class were great in terms of being able to use on a regular basis in your career. The GIS classes were challenging but in a productive way. I think anything that teaches you a new skill should be that way. Your skills in GIS can really be powerful in doing educational outreach to tell your story of what you’re trying to do. I’m able to create maps and data on our website that are pretty helpful in communicating what we’re trying to present to our region. That visualization helps us make our point more impactful to the average citizen. So it’s something that’s great to use every day.”

As an Environmental Planner, the courses Tom took for the Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management Certificate are also especially relevant. “Those courses really gave me an opportunity to identify what I should and shouldn’t be doing, and how to bring my team at work together to solve an environmental issue. The structured decision-making class (NRE 5205 - Decision Methods in Natural Resources and the Environment) was really interesting. It taught you how to think through environmental challenges, and then apply that to your working life. So basically, it would teach you how to identify a problem, how to delegate who should be tackling this problem, and how to set your goals. I think I use what I learned in all the classes on a regular basis, but that one stands out because it’s something I use every day.” 

Tom adds that he also appreciates the knowledge and skills he gained from the required law course, Law 7812 - Energy Regulation and Policy. “At my job, we look at a lot of regulations and laws because we can’t just do whatever we want. I think that this program definitely helped me learn how to navigate environmental laws and realize my scope of practice, what I can and can’t do, and where to look when I need guidance on a certain law so I can advise others.” 

UConn: a respected resource in the field

Even after graduating, Tom continues to use UConn as a resource for the environmental projects he is working on. “UConn does a lot of research in the environmental field that I continue to use now for my job. They offer assistance and information for a lot of projects that we do in terms of giving us guidance, purveying us, and data. UConn never really leaves the conversation even after you graduate. A lot of people look up to UConn to give them some guidance and data they need to finish their work on the job.” 

Today, Tom is deeply engaged in work he is passionate about. To others considering taking this leap, Tom encourages, “If you’ve graduated with a degree from a different field but you’re passionate about the environment, definitely go for it. You’re going to be in good hands. At first, I was kind of apprehensive, but it was definitely the right choice. It opened a huge door in my career path. I think this program will carry anyone into a good path. That’s really the main thing: It’s not too late to get into the environmental field – and it has, over the past three years, totally changed my career path to something that I’m passionate about.”

luciana grandstand headshot

As an Environmental Analyst, Luciana is passionate about helping others implement sustainable environmental practices. When she relocated from Brazil to the U.S., Luciana recognized that she needed to further her education so she could become more knowledgeable about environmental practices and policies in the U.S. As a graduate of the Master’s in Energy and Environmental Management (MEEM) program at University of Connecticut (UConn), Luciana says earning this degree has been a game-changer in relaunching and developing her career in the environmental field.

“The MEEM program helped me get back into the market and, more importantly, doing work I am passionate about to create a more equitable and sustainable environment. I’m extremely grateful to the professors that I had, and how the program was structured in a way that gave us all the knowledge and confidence that we need to apply for jobs and boost our career. I feel that it just opened the doors to put me back in the environmental field.” – Luciana Granstrand, Online Master’s in Energy and Environmental Management (MEEM), Graduate Spring 2023

Relaunching Her Career

Luciana is not new to the environmental field. She earned a BS in Environmental Studies in 2011, followed by a BS in Environmental Engineering in 2014. In Brazil, she had already launched her career as an Environmental Analyst. But when she relocated to the U.S. in 2017, she found herself struggling to find a job in her field. “Prior to this, I always worked in the environmental field with the Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) practices. But when I got here, I was struggling a lot to reestablish myself in my field. So I was like, ‘OK, I need to go back to school and learn how things work here in the U.S.’” 

Searching the internet, Luciana discovered the Online Master’s of Energy and Environmental Management (MEEM) program at UConn. It was just what she was looking for. “When I saw the program, I thought, ‘Yes, this is something that I can do by taking one class per semester.’ And I don’t think time matters; it is flying by anyway. Learning about the environmental challenges facing the U.S. and Connecticut was what mattered most.”

Luciana admits to initially feeling apprehensive about juggling work and school: “I was afraid at the beginning to start this program. I wasn’t sure if I should do this, especially working full-time. But the program is designed in a way that is helpful for students, especially those who are working. If you are dedicated and invested in this, you can keep working, and since it’s online, time usually spent commuting can be used for studying.” 

Flexibility to tailor pathway

One aspect of the program that Luciana found especially appealing was that before officially applying for the 30-credit Master’s program, she could first start by earning the 12-credit Sustainable Environment Planning and Management (SEPM) Certificate. Then if she chose to continue, those 12 credits would be transferable to her Master’s (MEEM) degree. This is what encouraged Luciana to test the waters. “I took just one class per semester, just to see if I could adjust myself to the program, and I loved it. So later on, I applied for the Master’s program.” Luciana began the SEPM certificate program in fall 2019, earning her certificate in summer 2021, and then graduating with her Master’s in spring 2023. 

Throughout the program, Luciana appreciated the flexibility to tailor her pathway in ways that matched her own interests and career goals. “I think the best part of this program is that everybody can start together, but as you are moving in the program, you will learn that your skills will fit one portion of the program better than another. This program is unique in the sense it gives students these different routes that we can take. This flexibility is the best, especially if you’re not sure which direction you want to take. If you want to be a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) expert or an Environmental Planner or learn more about Environmental Law, you have the option to decide this later on, after you join the program. During the entire program, I didn’t feel that I was bound and that I had to go in one single direction. This is the greatest thing about the program: being able to go in the direction that you think makes sense for your career and for your personal choices.”

Feeling known by faculty

Because all the courses are online and asynchronous, Luciana did not expect much opportunity to connect with her professors. She was delighted to discover she was wrong. “I was so surprised. Because when you see an online course, you think, ‘Oh, the professor will just post the activities and the discussion boards online and then you have to complete it.’ But it wasn’t like that. Faculty are amazing. In addition to classes, some professors meet with us weekly. And they give you the opportunity to reach out.” 

Luciana especially appreciated the ways her advisor, Dr. Chadwick (Chad) Rittenhouse, was actively involved in helping students carve out their future career path. “Faculty are so responsive, and they’re willing to help us – especially Professor Chad, our advisor. He’s so good: I don’t know how he has the time to answer all of us. Even with internships, he knows each of us based on our assignments and helps us find the perfect fit. Even though it’s an online program, we have this sense of being present in the classroom.” 

Developing a network of relationships

Interacting with her classmates via the HuskyCT/Blackboard online discussion forum provided Luciana the opportunity to enhance her learning. “We had classmates from around the country. During the discussion boards, those students who are out of state would bring the perspective of the environmental policies or laws that are executed in their home states. So you get a wider-range of experience about what other states in the country are doing in the environmental field.” 

In addition to discussion boards, Luciana explains that some of her courses required students to work together in a group. “This is another positive aspect of this program, because it’s hard to keep students together when it’s online. So the professors make sure that we’ll have an online collaboration with other students. Just, I think, to develop our work relationships.”

Having this opportunity to collaborate with her classmates has proven invaluable for Luciana in helping her develop a network of relationships in the field. “It’s really good to start those conversations and that network now because classmates will be really helpful. We have some folks in these classes that are professionals: They have been in the field for a while. Some even wrote me letters of recommendation. So that was really important to start these conversations with folks and take advantage of this collaboration with other students.” 

Game-changer in relaunching and developing her career

Since beginning the program, Luciana has successfully reentered the environmental field and is now working as an Environmental Analyst for a state agency in Connecticut. “As soon as I finished my certificate, it was a game-changer. I was applying for jobs, and honestly, I got so many interviews. I started an internship with a town here in Connecticut in their planning department. I helped the town get a sustainable city certification. After the town got their certification, they offered me a full-time job.  While finishing my Master’s program and working for the town, I received the job offer of my dreams from the state, which I took. I credit the certificate program and the internship requirement for the Master’s program for opening new doors that launched my career. The completion of my Master’s degree has helped me accelerate my career development with the state.”

Reflecting on how some of the relationships forged during the program continue to evolve in her workplace, Luciana adds, “Honestly, I’m pretty grateful because I developed some great working relationships during the program, and nowadays I work with three classmates. Since I know those folks, it’s different, because we already have this working relationship that we started a while ago. We can just help each other; we know what we’re each good at. We are pretty much tagging each other and partnering to make Connecticut a more sustainable place, which is pretty cool.”

Knowledge and skills applicable every day

In her role as an Environmental Analyst, Luciana works with Sustainable Materials Management (SMM). She explains, “SMM is when we use and reuse materials more effectively over their entire life cycles. It represents a change in how our society thinks about the use of natural resources and environmental protection. I help municipalities and other sectors of society in Connecticut to think about Sustainable Materials Management at the municipal level. Our goal is that municipalities, residents, and the commercial sector will reduce the amount of waste generated through state policies and programs that are implemented at the municipal level.”

The knowledge and skills Luciana learned in the program inform and guide her everyday work practices. One course that stands out for Luciana is LAW 7812 - Energy Regulation and Policy. “At my job, I have to be up to date on the environmental policies and regulations in the country and state. Every day, we get calls from residents or various sectors of society asking us questions. And honestly, the environmental law class helps me a lot every day. Because I know the principles, and I know the basic environmental policies, and it has helped give me direction in solving the questions and problems that I receive daily.”

Another especially helpful course was NRE 5205 - Decision Methods in Natural Resources and the Environment. “The skills that I learned in this class apply directly to my current career because part of my job is to help community decision-makers implement waste diversion programs. When it’s time for my group to present a project, we need to show the decision-makers what their options are, what values are associated with each option, and what they would gain economically, socially, and environmentally after they implement each option. I use the principles that I learned in this class to develop matrices to guide our decisions and how we present each model for a decision-maker at the municipal level.” 

As a bilingual student who was still new to the cultural communication norms in the U.S., Luciana also values what she learned in a third course, NRE 5210 - Communications for Environmental Decision Makers. “This class was extremely helpful, not just because English is not my first language, but I was also able to learn methods and techniques to communicate effectively with different audiences. And since I am not from this country, I could learn how people here communicate. Because each country has a culture that is different, and every culture has a different way to approach a problem or to approach a conversation. I was able to understand the best approach to communicating in this culture in a professional way. So I really appreciated this class.”

Access to abundant campus resources

For Luciana, another key advantage of the program was the abundance of resources available to her as a student. “UConn has an awesome campus with lots of opportunities for students to take advantage of and grow while you are attending the university. Even though it’s an online program, don’t think that you’re not going to be part of the university community. I was using everything, like their library resources, attending all the professional fairs, and training for interviews.”

Access to these resources was especially beneficial to Luciana in helping her successfully pursue her degree while navigating a language barrier. “As a bilingual student, it can be hard and intimidating because it’s a Master’s program. But as a student, you have access to many tools and resources at the university. You can have counsellors. You can have help from different sectors, like for ESL students. You can also have tutors. So I totally recommend this program. As a bilingual student, your way will be harder because you have the language barrier. But it’s possible, especially if you invest your time and take advantage of all the resources that the university can offer.”

Reflecting on her journey, Luciana adds, “The MEEM program helped me get back into the market and, more importantly, doing work I am passionate about to create a more equitable and sustainable environment. I’m extremely grateful to the professors that I had, and how the program was structured in a way that gave us all the knowledge and confidence that we need to apply for jobs and boost our career. I feel that it just opened the doors to put me back in the environmental field.”

UConn Master of Energy and Environmental Management, Nicole Pease

Nichole Pease not only earned her Master’s of Energy and Environmental Management (MEEM) degree from the University of Connecticut, but she also earned two online graduate certificates—Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management and Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—at the same time and at no additional cost.

“The entire program was well put together and positive. What I learned is very applicable to my job. If you are interested in getting into Environmental Management or Geographic Information Systems, this is the program you need to gain the knowledge, tools, and resources to propel your career.” Nichole Pease, Online Master’s of Energy and Environmental Management (MEEM), Fall 2021 Graduate

Three in One

Who would ever think that a Bachelor’s degree from a Criminal Justice College would lead to a career in energy crisis management? That is exactly what happened with Nichole Pease. While attending John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY in New York City, Nichole earned her BA in Fire and Emergency Service with a focus in Emergency Management. After receiving her degree, she worked in a variety of emergency management positions, as well as served in the Connecticut Air National Guard, specializing in Emergency Management and Readiness.

Since 2019, she has been employed by a large power utility in New York State. As a Crisis Management Program Manager, she is primarily responsible for managing the drill and exercise program that helps support the readiness of the agency. “When I took the job, I was particularly interested in working in the energy sector as well as leveraging the GIS skills I acquired in the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) Online Master’s of Energy and Environmental Management program (MEEM) program.”

Tuition waiver

Because Nichole was in Connecticut’s Air National Guard at the time, she was motivated to find a Master’s program offered by a college or university in the state. As she explains, “The Connecticut National Guard offered tuition waivers for Guard members who attended schools located in Connecticut. So I did some research online and found exactly what I was looking for, right here in my home state.”

She applied and was accepted into UConn’s Online Master’s of Energy and Environmental Management program. “I was thrilled,” says Nichole, who began the program in the spring 2019 term. “I was especially taken with the GIS component of the program and the fact that I could choose from nine different electives in the GIS field. I also loved that the entire program was online. I didn’t have to travel to a physical location and was able to work around my busy schedule.”

Nichole decided to take one course to start. “That felt like a good test to see if I would be able to do two courses simultaneously while working full time,” she says. Over the next two years, she completed a total of ten three-credit courses—four in GIS, one in law and the other five in environmental management and sustainability. The law course, LAW 7812 – Energy Regulation and Policy, turned out to be one of her favorites. “The professor provided many great case studies, primarily focused on companies suing the state over the rights to sell energy to other companies. I was able to learn all of the various acronyms and how many regulations became law.”

Other than LAW 7812, which she took on its own, each semester she paired a GIS course with an environmental course. “I liked mixing up coursework that way,” she says and adds: “With the GIS courses, you had to be online for longer durations of time. You couldn’t just work on a map halfway through and walk away. If you did, you’d lose where you were in the program.” And she adds, “I loved how the GIS courses built on each other, getting more and more complex. I now feel skilled in using GIS, which I believe will open up new opportunities at my company.”

Another course that hit home was an elective, NRE 5205 - Decision Methods in Natural Resources and the Environment. In fact, she draws on the knowledge she gained quite often in her job. “For my job in crisis management, when you have an emergency, you have to quickly brainstorm how to respond. The course focused on distinct types of decision-making and how to best present facts as you develop a plan to mitigate damage. It gave me so many great ideas about how to analyze a situation and make more structured and informed decisions. I also learned how to effectively present my solutions to get buy-in.”

In addition, Nichole appreciated how helpful her professors were. “They always gave us enough information to be able to do the assignments. They set up excellent discussion boards and were very responsive whenever I needed help. My advisor, Dr. Chadwick Rittenhouse, also helped me pair up the various courses I would take together, so that I could balance coursework requirements with my work demands.”

Anyone considering a fully online program like UConn’s Master’s of Energy and Environmental Management might wonder if you are able to get to know your classmates. For Nichole, that turned out to be a non-issue, primarily because many of the courses required group work. “For some of our courses, we were paired into one main group of six, then into three sets of two people, with each smaller team working together on a specific part of the project. We would pick a convenient time for everyone to participate in Zoom meetings. We used Google Docs to collaborate on one shared document. I definitely got to know many of my classmates quite well.”

In conclusion, Nichole says: “The entire program was well put together and positive. What I learned is very applicable to my job. If you are interested in getting into Environmental Management or GIS, this is the program you need to gain the knowledge, tools, and resources to propel your career. And everyone at UConn was very responsive. Unlike other programs I have done, UConn made it so easy for me to use my military wavier. And after applying and getting accepted into two online graduate certificate programs—UConn’s Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management and Geographic Information Systems—the credits I earned for my Master’s were automatically applied to those two certificate programs. I completed three programs for the price of one!”