Interviewer: Samantha Esparza A., Solutioneer.
Ashley Weisman was promoted to Executive Director (ED) at GreenLight Solutions Foundation in Fall 2020 after four years with the organization. She started as a student Solutioneer in 2016 during her Junior year while pursuing her Bachelors in Sustainability at Arizona State University. She has experienced deep personal and professional growth thanks to her time with GreenLight. In return for everything that GreenLight has given her as a student, she has made it her mission to grow the movement as a professional. Ashley has shown consistent dedication to the team and as ED her objective is to expand its reach and says that “from this point, it only moves forward”.
SE: What made you study Sustainability and pursue the Master of Sustainability Solutions?
Ashley Weismen (AW): I first started with a Voice Performance Major at Scottsdale Community College. While I was acting and singing I found myself writing speeches about how to make a positive impact and I felt more passionate about humanitarianism. Then my public speaking professor was the one who introduced me to sustainability and told me that there was even a career in that. Then I took my first Sustainability course and I ultimately changed my whole career path. This is an excellent example of how one person can change your life
Samantha Esparza (SE): Yes, definitely. I also changed my career path but from Food Engineering to Sustainability. But I had at the back of my head the passion for food. But in the end, everything happens for a reason
AW: I love hearing about people’s past and their aha moments that led them to sustainability.
SE: When you started your studies at ASU and became a Solutioneer at GL, did you see yourself in the position you are at now as Executive Director?
AW: Not at all. In my first semester, I attended Passport where I met GL. It was the first club I went to. I started late as a Junior to get immersed in the field. I wouldn’t have imagined applying to a leadership position until they asked me to be the VP of Projects by the former VP Jacob*. That year was probably the most empowering year of my life. I was working extra hours and the results were there. It was when we had our most projects ever (seven). I was so excited and having so much fun. After being VP I realized that I wanted to improve the curriculum of the foundation, so I helped with that while doing the CAPSTONE internship that is required for an SOS major. Then I went on to being a part-time job as a Program Director which led me to be the Executive Director.
SE: What were some skills that helped you reach the point where you are now?
AW: Leading from your seat is something that helps you with your professional development and realizing your full potential. Maybe you are not in a leading position but you find yourself giving the extra and filling the gaps just so your team can succeed. You are not going to be asked to be in a leadership position if you don’t work hard and show that extra effort.
- What have you learned from your time in GL?
AW: I started in fall 2016 and got asked to be on the board in 2019. So two out of my five years of education have been in GreenLight, so I have learned a lot of stuff like sustainability best practices, strategic thinking, knowing how to pivot, problem-solving skills, the nonprofit sector, etc. I was basically learning as I went.
SE: What you learned in class, have you been able to put it into practice?
AW: That’s a great question. Yes, 100%. How GreenLight accompanies the knowledge that you learn in your career not only for sustainability students but for other areas because we need people from different disciplines. We have 10 years to take gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere There is a lot of work to be done so we need people from different sectors to be thinking sustainably! So yeah, GL accompanied me in my journey and let me apply the knowledge of my major. Learning about sustainability from a book is much different from how you apply it in real life.
- If you had any difficulties, how did you overcome them?
AW: I did not have any experience in the nonprofit sector nor business experience and the only work experience I had was as Sustainability Certification Coordinator for the university. I had a lot of difficulties but I tried reaching out to mentors, ask a lot of questions and do my own research, being collaborative, and ready to learn new things. I had the “ fake it till you make it mentality” but I am still learning as I go. It is important to know how to pivot quickly when things don’t turn out and being resourceful to try new things.
- What has been the response of GL to the pandemic this year?
AW: We had to take all of our activities online but overall it was easier for us because we already worked on the cloud. Our professional programs were more difficult to adapt, like our seminars. We had a lot of leads for them but a lot of businesses were being careful with their resources so they were not looking for professional engagement for their employees so it was difficult. Nevertheless, we made some materials like an 11-minute webinar about ‘Business Resilience in 2020’. We talked about subjects like building back better, building back greener, and how sustainable businesses are more resilient to hits like this.
SE: How has been the participation from students now that you are remote?
A.E.: Switching to virtual has opened our eyes. We currently have chapters in NAU, in Community Colleges, in which students can be part. But my vision for the future is that there is no reason for students from other universities not to be able to participate. So one of my goals is to expand our reach.
- In what ways will GL change now that you have taken this new position? Where do you see GL in the future?
AW: When new leaders come they shake things up and I feel like I’ve been doing that since I started being an intern in 2018. Since I am not a founding member I see things from a different perspective which encourages a change of paradigm that increases our impact. For the upcoming semesters, I will focus on expanding student impact, keeping a narrow focus on strategic goals, and maybe revising them. Keeping the focus on the metric of funding to be able to make more impact as well as increasing donor stewardship and finding new revenue-generating programs which are reached by taking risks.
- What are you proud of?
AW: How far we’ve come in general. 2020 was the year where we had a full-time staff which has led to an increase in capacity that has never been seen before. Our achievements this year have been renewing our website, recreating our project portfolio back to 2013 making it a total of 53 project portfolios that were recreated. Having 10 successful projects, 2 successful chapters, and the highest level of student recruitment. We improved the student curriculum and had the highest “Giving Tuesday” fundraising goal and exceeded it. Thanks to the full-time staff, we have our day-to-day operations like our first social media team. We put together bi-weekly engagement emails and all of this because we had the largest volunteering team.
SE: You also won an award given by ASU right? Can you explain what it consisted of?
AW: Yes, we all won the People’s Choice Award for the ASU Sustainability Summit thanks to the projects. We were very excited about it because it was given through a voting process that took into account which has had the most impact, so we made a video as well as other Sustainability Orgs nominees. I was really excited, happy, and proud of that.
SE: What can you say to future Solutioneers and Project Partners about GL and what type of experience can it give for both parties?
AW: For businesses, I saw after participating in GL they feel empowered not only to impact but to go above and beyond because they see how innovative and passionate our team is. We have also seen that they have even hired students after working with them and even students becoming project partners, which is interesting to see. For future solutioneers, I say they can get the networking, resume experience, and professional development opportunities that are unmatched
SE: What is your favorite SDG and why?
AW: I would have to say SDG 14: Life below water. I know I live in a desert but I try to get out there whenever possible. Scuba Diving has a place in my heart and I will always be passionate about that.
SE: Who do you look up to in the realms of Sustainability or an environmentalist?
AW: The list is endless! Some that come to mind right now are Jennifer Morgan the ED of Greenpeace International, Kate Brandt who is Google’s Sustainability Officer. Joel Makower has been great working with him, he is the co-founder of GreenBiz, Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. There are many more, but those are the people I look up to, a lot of women in leadership positions.
This interview was made virtually on December 15th, 2020.
Samantha Esparza Alcantara is a Sophomore pursuing a BA in Sustainability. She wants to save the world and the Amazon Rainforest. Her passions are studying Portuguese and learning more about Food Systems which she hopes to obtain a certification in both areas while in school. She became a Solutioneer during the Fall 2020 semester at the ASU chapter where she enjoyed the professional experience GL provided. What she likes most about GreenLight Solutions is the close connection throughout the whole organization with everyone, no one is left behind.
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