If you ask Inez Ortiz, ‘23, about her post-graduation aspirations, she’ll tell you she’s more than ready to take on the world – literally.
“I’ve always been really passionate about the environment,” said Ortiz. “Before I even knew what sustainability was, I always wanted to find a career where I could help balance our human impact on the environment and find a way where we could co-exist.”
A senior from Torrington, Conn., Ortiz had her sights set on a career in environmental law. But after discovering the expenses associated with law school completion, practice establishment, and service promotion, Ortiz chose to adjust her sights in a more pragmatic direction.
“Law school and being a lawyer is really good work, but it’s reactive work,” said Ortiz. “You’re reacting to situations that are already occurring, and I really wanted to do something that was proactive.”
After completing her associate degree in 2022, Ortiz saw Southern as a natural pathway to continue toward this goal, eyeing the Sustainability Science and Environmental Policy degree within the Department of the Environment, Geography, and Marine Sciences in particular.
Through her research at Southern, Ortiz came face-to-face with the vast amount of work that needs to be done to address sustainability issues right here in Connecticut, including further exploring the connection between the growing wealth gap and its impact on the environment.
“Public transportation is a big one,” said Ortiz. “There’s a lot of disparities in Connecticut in access to public transportation, especially because Connecticut is a unique place where it’s rural and urban.”
Her passion for the topic led Ortiz to make it her capstone project, detailing the contrasts in public transportation methods in Connecticut and the effects on marginalized populations.
“Facilitating widespread access to public bus transit systems encourages less carbon-intensive lifestyles while contributing to local and state economies, resulting in more sustainable cities and communities,” said Ortiz.
This work was further complemented in her internship with the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental (DEEP).
“Through DEEP, I learned how the processes work – the communications with state and town governments,” said Ortiz. “I have the government side, I have the science side, and working with people too. I think that’s something I’ve gotten really good at at Southern.”
This summer, Ortiz will begin her sustainability advocacy as a project coordinator for SustainableCT, a voluntary certification program that provides Connecticut communities with grant funding and a menu of sustainability actions to build local economies, support equity, and respect the finite capacity of the environment.
“Inez… is one of the most focused and active listeners I have ever met,” said Miriah Kelly, assistant professor of environmental studies. “She has the ability to make novel and thoughtful connections between complex environmental science concepts, all while understanding system context and complexity.”
Long term, Ortiz hopes to keep making these connections within Connecticut in some capacity, ideally working with town governments to identify and tackle sustainability opportunities as they arise.
“I have a specific interest in local communities and letting individual people know why sustainability is important,” says Ortiz. “I think if you start on that individual level, it can only get better with telling other people and networking.”
Ortiz credits her advisor, Associate Professor of Sustainability Science Stephen Axon and Kelly for helping her see her undergraduate degree to completion.
“Inez has excelled in her pursuit of her major and has achieved a lot in the two years since she transferred to Southern,” said Axon. “She is truly an inspiration to her peers and to the wider campus community. I know that she will continue to achieve great things as she moves throughout her career in sustainability and look forward to seeing her step into future leadership opportunities.”
The Department of the Environment, Geography, and Marine Sciences provides students with hands-on learning experiences both in and out of the classroom, especially in the form of student-faculty research collaborations or faculty-supervised research projects. Click here to learn more.