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Marshall Launches First Curriculum-Driven Sustainability Fellowship Program Across Campus

Marshall Launches First Curriculum-Driven Sustainability Fellowship Program Across Campus

Rising sophomores across all USC schools are invited to apply to new Hayes Barnard Sustainability Fellowship.

Color photograph of Professor Chris Bresnahan

Student application period opens on February 1st [USC Photo]

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There’s a reason why the corner office is the most coveted.

“Change can happen anywhere, but when you get the corner office, you can make real differences,” said Associate Professor of Clinical Management and Organization CHRISTOPHER BRESNAHAN.

And that’s the hope for this professor with a passion for the business of sustainability — to flip the mindset of corporations and organizations toward creating a more sustainable future.

The climate crisis is real — 97% of scientists agree that human actions are causing climate change. While the AGREEMENTS made at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) were a tiny step forward, companies can no longer deny, distract, or delay the inevitable. Rather, there’s an opportunity to innovate and implement business practices that produce economic value while reducing environmental impact.

“If someone says, ‘hey, I care about this, but I want to start my own company and be successful and sustainable,’ that’s where you can balance and scale your business to go a certain way,” Bresnahan explained. “If you’re a director or a VP at a company, maybe you could do that. But when you’re a CEO, then you really can start to balance and tip those scales to create the change you want to happen.”

Focusing on organizational behavior and leadership in the courses he teaches, the professor works to prepare his students to gain access to the C-Suite. And now, Bresnahan has an additional tool in his tool box to help cultivate future leaders through a green lens: the Hayes Barnard Sustainability Fellowship (HBSF).

Bresnahan, director of the new program, has envisioned for a long time how to develop the first university-wide, cohort-driven experience dedicated to the endeavor of sustainability. The two-year fellowship will start in Fall 2024 with several goals: develop students who are well-versed in the business of sustainable practices, expose the Fellows to C-Suite level sustainability officers in a number of fields, and establish Marshall as a known source for outstanding bachelor-level leadership in the sustainability field.

The Hayes Barnard Sustainability Fellowship is funded anonymously but named in honor of the well known clean-tech entrepreneur Barnard. Barnard has founded numerous climate-friendly businesses as well as the nonprofit GIVEPOWER, which develops clean water and energy systems in underserved communities worldwide. As a forward-thinking business leader, Barnard has proved that balancing good business, the bottom line, and sustainable practices are mutually attainable and a harbinger for successful sustainability practices.

The HBSF application period will open in February for undergraduates who have shown interest and leadership in sustainable practices. Although housed as part of Marshall’s suite of sustainability offerings and leadership opportunities, the fellowship is open to rising sophomores across all school disciplines.

"Change can happen anywhere, but when you get the corner office, you can make real differences." 

— Christopher Bresnahan

Director of Hayes Barnard Sustainability Fellowship and associate professor of clinical management and organization

“This fellowship gives students the opportunity to connect with various groups across USC,” said RAMAN RANDHAWA, senior vice dean for academic programs. “If you’re a scientist, you can see how you can influence the world via the business conduit. On the business school side, students will experience how to work with scientists and with people across society with varying viewpoints, yet all toward the same goal. By housing this fellowship at Marshall, we can also help train the undergrads from other schools on how corporate America works.”

The student and industry-focused fellowship will feature three one-unit courses taught by professors from across the USC spectrum of disciplines for a comprehensive educational approach. The curriculum will focus on leadership development (determining their own style and how to influence others in a specific direction); the science of sustainability (how businesses engage in sustainability and how ESG policies affect firms and governance); and entrepreneurial engagement (how to engage in the creation of new ventures, both as an internal employee with a new idea, and from a founder’s perspective).

There are 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which will be studied as part of the first course. By the end of that class, Bresnahan expects each student will have picked out one of those sustainability goals and decided “that’s what I’m passionate about.”

Within the four semesters of the program, fellows will also meet monthly with guest lecturers to discuss sustainability issues and community building and embark on two field trips. In their final semester, students will have a 15-week practicum experience, performing hands-on sustainability work at an organization or field that fits their passion.

“I think we all understand we need to do something, but we haven’t got the personal awareness of how to make a difference,” Bresnahan said.

The HBSF experience will help channel student’s individual missions and prepare them to “fight on” toward more sustainable practices in their future employment.

“I want the fellowship to take students from wanting to help to knowing how to help,” Bresnahan continued. “There’s a philosophical component versus a behavioral component. My goal is to turn it into behavior. I want the Fellows to ask themselves, ‘What am I going to do differently? What type of jobs am I going to apply for? How am I going to approach specific things?’”

With sustainability becoming a vital part of the professional world, the HBSF experience will provide undergraduates with the competitive advantage for their future endeavors and nurture sustainability champions to lead in any and all fields and positions.

And in the end, hopefully those future corner offices will be green.