June 17, 2019
Kayla Kutter recently graduated from Arizona State University with two degrees: a Master of Sustainability Solutions from the School of Sustainability and a Master of Science and Technology Policy from the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
Kutter said she realized she wanted to study sustainability while she was in the Peace Corps in Tanzania. While living in a small village for two years, she did not have access to running water or electricity, and she had to minimize her waste due to the lack of trash collection infrastructure.
“Learning to live off the grid and be acutely aware of how much I was using was a huge change in my mindset,” Kutter said. Read more about her experience studying sustainability in her Q&A.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Answer: I'm from Golden, Colorado and attended the University of New Mexico for my undergraduate degree in applied mathematics. I then served with the United States Peace Corps in Tanzania as a secondary school physics teacher. While in the Peace Corps, I worked on a number of projects in addition to teaching physics, including menstrual health education with young women, digging two wells to supply fresh water to the school, and hosting multiple regional conferences. When I finished my service with the Peace Corps I moved to Tempe for my master’s degree. Fun facts about me: I am a certified rescue diver, have been skiing and snowboarding since I first learned how to walk, and have traveled to all seven continents.
Q: Why did you choose the Master of Sustainability Solutions (MSUS) at ASU?
A: I knew I wanted to learn about sustainability and be around like-minded individuals, and I didn't want to do research. I wanted an applied program where I could learn about techniques and tools while actually implementing sustainability solutions. I had narrowed down my grad school search to the MSUS program and the Masters of the Environment program out of the University of Colorado Boulder. I ended up choosing the MSUS because I was allowed to be broader and not pigeonhole myself into a specific piece of sustainability.
Q: So far, what particular classes or nuggets of information have really stuck with you or inspired you?
A: Sustainability is more than just environmental protections. It's about systems and how they interact with each other. There are so many ways to do "sustainability work" because it fits into every part of life.
Q: Can you tell us about your culminating experience project?
A: My culminating experience was about electric vehicles and reducing carbon dioxide emissions from transportation. I began working with University Sustainability Practices (USP) in September 2017 and was able to use the work I started with them as my project. I worked with ChargePoint and USP to write a business plan for charging station installations and then worked to determine barriers to electric vehicle (EV) adoption.
I interviewed other universities to see what they were doing to support EV adoption on their campuses. Then, I distributed a survey to all staff and faculty on the ASU campus with a parking pass to learn why they would or would not buy an EV. Using the 1,500 responses, I determined what were the biggest barriers to EV adoption.
Next, I worked with local dealerships to create an incentive program for staff, faculty and students to buy or lease an electric vehicle at a discounted rate. For Earth Day, the dealerships then brought some of the vehicles to campus for people to ask questions and learn about EVs. Finally, with the work I was doing with Navigant Research (my other job), I published a paper on how higher education can partner with industry (EV manufacturers and dealers) to grow the EV space.
Q: How do you plan to use (or are already using) what you learned from this degree in your career?
A: I am using what I learned from both of my master’s programs with my new job. I currently work for the University of Colorado Denver as the sustainability procurement program manager. It's an amazing job because I get to think about integrating sustainability into the $1 billion that flows through the CU procurement system and do different fun work every day. I was involved with the graduate Net Impact chapter at ASU as a co-president, which gave me experience in the business world and learning how to communicate sustainability concepts to people outside our world, which is coming in handy now.
Q: How did you balance your classes with your work/personal life?
A: Balancing work and my personal life has been a fun balance — I love being busy. Through the course of graduate school, I worked on classes for both of my master’s programs, had multiple jobs (first I tutored student athletes in math, then I did transcription work, then started at University Sustainability Practices, then became a teacher’s assistant, then was hired at Navigant Research as a market research analyst, and finally worked with an accelerator to help startups plan for risk). In my second year of grad school, I was working three jobs, became the co-president of Net Impact, and then trained to become an acroyoga instructor. It was a lot but it was a good busy time.