October 31, 2018
Antonia Castro-Graham decided to pursue her Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership from Arizona State University after a careful search of different programs. It makes sense that she wanted to invest her time and money wisely — she already had a full-time job, an adjunct professorship at California State University, Fullerton, and a two-year-old.
“I wanted a degree that would propel me to the next level,” she said. “EMSL enabled me to broaden my skill set.”
In the Q&A below, Castro-Graham — who works for the city of Huntington Beach, California as the assistant to the city manager and the energy and sustainability manager — talks about her experience as an EMSL student and explains how the master’s degree has allowed her to become more successful as a sustainability professional.
What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability?
Since the beginning of my career I have always worked on the environmental compliance public works type programs, but when I started my career in 2002 the term “sustainability” was not widely used. As my career progressed, I realized it was time to move past compliance and work towards creating a sustainable community.
Sustainability is more than just a clean environment — it’s about equity for everyone in the community, it’s about economic opportunity for everyone, and it’s about fostering lasting behavioral changes that make these things happen.
Why did you choose the EMSL?
I chose the EMSL program after searching for a while for a program that would enable me to still work but to advance my career and perhaps allow me to go into the private sector. I already held an MPA, and at the time had over 10 years of experience in the public sector, but I wanted a degree that would propel me to the next level. EMSL enabled me to broaden my skill set.
Were there any particular classes or nuggets of information that really stuck with you or inspired you?
I never thought taking a communication class would inspire me, but all the comms classes really shifted my thinking. These were the most challenging classes for me because I had previously thought communication was so easy — boy was I wrong.
Taking Park Howell’s classes were the most impactful for me during my EMSL coursework. In my line of work I have to communicate complex projects to elected officials and various stakeholders, and learning how to incorporate story into my communication strategy is what has helped me become more successful in my daily life. As a thought leader in the sustainability community in California and as an adjunct professor at California State University, Fullerton, communication techniques are of the utmost importance to me because it is my job to “sell ideas” and to foster lasting sustainable behavioral changes.
How did you balance your classes with your work life?
I was lucky that I had an awesome support network. My husband is my biggest cheerleader and picked up the slack at home because at the time I was not only working full time and teaching, but also had a two-year-old at home! My mom and mother in-law also helped a lot. Education is very important to my family, and my late father — who was a university administrator and noted historian — felt that the more degrees you had the better, so I also had him supporting me too!
How has the EMSL advanced your career?
EMSL has made me very marketable and has helped lend credibility to my practical experience. While I already held a MPA, this degree especially from ASU’s School of Sustainability has given me more credibility.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sustainability to me is more holistic and it’s about creating a society that has the capacity to endure and includes an economy that works for everyone.