How has this journey changed or shaped you?

After working in the finance industry for a few years, I had the privilege to pause and reflect when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Recognizing that my true passions lay elsewhere, I decided not to return to the finance industry and sought a new path that aligned with my values.

During this period of self-reflection, I became acutely aware of the issues of waste and inequity that bothered me, particularly within the context of New York City’s mass waste culture.

Witnessing the stark contrast between the abundance of discarded items in the US and my personal upbringing in Ukraine fueled my desire for change.

The flexibility of my education allowed me to adapt and explore different areas of concern, deepening my understanding of systemic problems and their interconnectedness.

Rather than continuing to complain about the inefficiencies of recycling in New York City, I yearned for knowledge to create systemic change.

Harvard Extension School’s sustainability degree program guided me on a transformative journey of self-discovery, allowing me to find my passion for the circular economy, a framework that offers systemic solutions to the very issues I complained about, offering a pathway to address waste, inequity, and environmental degradation.

When I attended my circular economy course, I noticed something shift inside me. It was my last class of the week, ending at 9:20 pm on Thursday, and yet I left every class feeling energized, excited about the practical solutions that exist to many of the problems we face.

Through my work in the greenhouse gas emissions course, I was able to provide a comprehensive set of recommendations to Costco to reduce its emissions, focused on methods to reduce food waste and implement circularity.

The accessibility of the program combined with its flexible curriculum allowed me to shape my journey according to my evolving interests and provided me with the tools to make a meaningful difference in the world.

I was able to begin studying during the pandemic in NYC, continue my studies in Miami when I was offered a seasonal job on a private yacht, and complete my studies in Colombia, where I had the opportunity to live in the mountains with minimal cost and distractions, focusing on my capstone project and personal well-being.

What did you do for your capstone project?

The unfolding crisis in Ukraine — where I was born and still have family — significantly shifted my focus.

As the war escalated with a full-scale invasion in February 2022, it became increasingly challenging to concentrate on circular packaging and waste issues while a much larger and unsustainable system was demanding my attention.

The flexibility of my education allowed me to adapt and explore different areas of concern, deepening my understanding of systemic problems and their interconnectedness.

I worked with Pyxera Global, a global development NGO based in Washington, DC, on a capstone consulting project. We focused on advancing an equitable and resilient transition to renewable energy in Ukraine, the foundation of a circular economy and a systemic leverage point to combat authoritarian regimes and the Russian war machine.

I researched the state of energy in Ukraine before and after the full-scale invasion, renewable energy policies in Ukraine, interviewed important stakeholders, and provided a comprehensive set of recommendations and funding opportunities to Pyxera Global to support Ukraine’s green recovery efforts.

What’s something unexpected that you learned about Harvard? 

The vast diversity of the students, instructors, and mindsets, in addition to the community’s welcoming and supportive nature, was unexpected to me.

The Harvard sustainability program was open to all points of views, reaffirming that we need to collaborate and bring everyone to the conversation to drive sustainable change.

What are you going to miss the most about HES? 

All the perks including Hollis Library, access to Adobe Creative Cloud, and the free Washington Post subscription.

However, my class WhatsApp chats continue to be alive and thriving and I know the Harvard community and their welcoming, supportive nature isn’t going anywhere.

Describe your HES experience in one word.