Meet Cathy Liebowitz, Director of Sustainability

1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?

I serve as a subject expert, connector, and catalyst for environmental action as Holy Cross strives to reach carbon neutrality by 2040.

2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer? How did you learn/decided it was a good fit for you?

It was a combination of mentorship and failure. During my first semester of college, I dropped out of a biochemistry class because I was doing quite poorly despite giving it everything I had. That experience made me realize that my original plan to pursue a major in environmental engineering wasn’t going to happen. After stumbling through that reality check, I was fortunate to find the dean of residential life who took me in as a mentee and gave me a few significant opportunities to explore student affairs as a career path.

3. Please tell us your career path since graduating college.

During my senior year, I applied to both jobs and master’s programs. When University of Maryland, College Park offered me a generous financial aid package and an assistantship that allowed me to get practical experience, I decided to go straight to graduate school. After finishing my master’s degree in higher education administration and international education, I was willing to move anywhere in the United States and landed at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign overseeing their $1.1M student green fund. Recognizing my desire to move closer to family, I started applying for a variety of positions in the northeast. I took a sustainability officer position at another institution before ending up here at Holy Cross. While I support networking, all the jobs I’ve been offered have come from online job applications.

4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?

I majored in Environmental Studies and minored in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino studies. I was, and still am, interested in sustainable development. However, I was leaning on my internship and co-curricular experiences far more than my major when thinking about my career. My major really came into play when I was a few weeks into my assistantship at UMD and my supervisor changed some of my job responsibilities to incorporate environmental stewardship, which aligned with the University’s goals. Otherwise, I’ve made career decisions based on experience, passion, and impact, rather than my major or course selections.

6. What skills are needed for the work you do?

Perseverance, active-listening, a willingness to learn new concepts quickly, and project development skills. The director of sustainability role is a generalist position, so some days I’m analyzing the phase out of R-22 refrigerants or writing a grant proposal while other days I’m helping students with a waste audit or creating social media graphics.

7. What advice do you have for students today?  

If you like multiple professional fields, it’s possible to work and/or stay connected across disciplines, especially over time. For instance, I currently work in environmental sustainability in my day-to-day job, but I support an emergency line in the summer for high school students traveling abroad for the first time, which feeds my interest in emergency management. Conferences, volunteer opportunities, consulting gigs, neighborhood projects, or starting a business are just some of the ways to engage in multiple professional fields. While I’ve held a few sustainability in higher education roles in a row, I’ve certainly explored positions in different areas because I like to merge potential impact, my skill set, and my passions.