For Jenni Asman ’11, a career in sustainability was far from her original intention. The current program manager for sustainability at Georgia State University started off as a neuroscience major at Furman University, but quickly figured out that she didn’t want to go into medicine. “I was always interested in the behavioral aspects of neuroscience,” she says, “so I took some psychology courses and realized that’s where I needed to be.”
During her freshman year, Asman became involved with the Shucker Leadership Institute, a two-year program designed to develop student leaders. As part of this program, the students are required to develop a project on a specific topic. Asman partnered with two other students, but admits they were procrastinating picking a topic. “We thought that the environment was a popular subject at the time,” she recalls, “so we decided to do a project on energy conservation.”
The three presented their idea to Kim Keefer, director of the Shucker Leadership Institute, who introduced them to Furman’s Director of Sustainability Angela Halfacre. “Angela was very excited about working with students who were interested in sustainability,” Asman reports. “She took on a mentorship role for us.”
“Just seeing what Angela did on a daily basis, opened my eyes to the world of sustainability,” Asman notes. “I was particularly interested in people’s perceptions about sustainability, and how you can use different techniques and messaging to modify their behavior and engage them in more sustainable activities.”
The summer of Asman’s second year, Halfacre hired four students as the first David E. Shi Center for Sustainability Fellows, who would help to integrate sustainability into the campus culture. “Unquestionably, Jenni and the other first three fellows set the stage for this impressive and enriching program that has contributed to both campus and community projects and goals over the last eight years,” Halfacre says.
Asman’s task was to research best sustainability practices at universities and to create a first-year orientation session on sustainability at Furman. She worked with business professor Jeanine Stratton and psychology professor Michelle Horhota to craft two different videos with different messaging types. They set out to see, given the type of messaging the students received, whether students would be more or less likely to recycle. They tracked recycling rates from different sessions based on what messaging types each group received, and eventually published their study in the Sustainability Journal of Record. “It was a cool opportunity as an undergraduate to do that!” Asman exclaims.
After graduation, Asman went to work as program director for the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. “It was a great job,” she says of her time overseeing the organization’s Green Schools Program, “but after a year and a half, I missed the university setting and working with students.”
All this experience, particularly her work with Furman’s Shi Center for Sustainability, primed Asman for a job as program coordinator in the brand-new Sustainability Office at Georgia State University (GSU) in 2013. She was promoted to sustainability program manager in 2015. “If I had not had that experience at the Shi Center, I probably would have been too afraid to even apply for the job at GSU,” she reflects. “Furman gave me the confidence to apply and to excel.”
In her current job, Asman is responsible for conceiving new sustainability initiatives for all six GSU campus locations in Georgia. “Given the size of GSU [54,000 students], we have a very small office of sustainability. I like to say we’re small but mighty,” she quips. She advises facilities on best practices and how to be more efficient, and creates policy around energy efficiency and sustainable building. She also collaborates with the faculty associate in her office to find new ways to infuse sustainability concepts into the curriculum.
Asman recently completed a five-year plan for sustainability, which she considers a significant accomplishment, and one that lays out a clear road map for GSU. She hopes her plan will become part of the university’s overall strategic plan in the near future.
Like her mentor, Angela Halfacre, Asman loves working with the students. “They come in with all this energy,” she says. “They know there are challenges to pushing sustainability forward on campus, but they see the benefits and the positive side, and that is so refreshing.”
As Halfacre, who is now Furman’s special advisor to the President for community engagement, sees it, “Jenni is one of those bright shining stars—during her time at Furman and now more broadly as she contributes to sustainability in the South—who makes teaching and collaboration incredibly meaningful for us as faculty, Furman as an institution, and our society.”