It’s back to school time! At FourKites, we’re big believers in lifelong learning – whether that means gaining a new professional certification, pursuing a higher education degree, or simply picking up a new skill during quarantine. In the spirit of celebrating continuous education, I recently sat down with two FourKites employees pursuing master’s degrees in sustainability to learn more about how they’re bringing the skills they learn in the (virtual) classroom into their professional roles.

Andrew Ernest, an Operations Associate, is currently pursuing his Master of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability, while Tony Adams, a team lead on FourKites’ Carrier Operations team, is currently attending The University of Illinois at Springfield, where he is pursuing a Master of Science in Sustainable Development & Policy. Both Andrew and Tony were instrumental in establishing FourKites’ Sustainability Center of Excellence in March, and lended their expertise in sustainability during the development of our Sustainability Dashboard.

Read on for valuable insights into how Andrew and Tony leverage their academic experience in their roles at FourKites, and how they’ve turned their passion for sustainability into meaningful progress for global supply chains in the FourKites network.

Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in sustainability?

Tony: I developed a deep interest in how humans interact with their environment after being stationed at Pearl Harbor while I was in the Navy. The people of Hawai’i have a deep respect and love for the land, and it hit me deep in my heart. As you can imagine, on an island many goods need to be brought in from other places, which brings the ancillary effects of shipping, packaging, higher population, waste removal, etc. I started to think about what would happen to that paradise if there were no sustainability initiatives. I realized that no matter what I did professionally, I needed to be eco-conscious and include sustainability in all facets of my life, in addition to continuing to educate myself on how others can help.

Andrew: I quickly realized that technical knowledge in the field of sustainability would help me make more informed decisions in my role at FourKites. Sustainability is a complex subject, and I knew I needed to obtain more knowledge to have the most impact. I’ve already learned so much from Virginia Tech’s program and professors. In addition, the climate issues we are facing today will only get worse unless decisive action is taken. I hope to be a part of the positive change moving forward.

How has the program enriched your career at FourKites?

Tony: I had actually just enrolled in my program when I found FourKites! I have a ton of respect for those people in the transportation space that keep the world moving by getting goods from A to B, and I want to be part of the team that helps to get things where they need to go. But I also want to help identify those small changes that can create huge impacts on sustainability! We can use data to drive a more sustainable future. And we can learn from what is happening now to make better decisions later that will ultimately create a safer, greener ecosystem.

Andrew: Virginia Tech’s program has allowed me to build out FourKites’ sustainability efforts and better understand how we can bring value to our customers. I can now more confidently speak to customers, colleagues and prospects about sustainability. Previously, I had just a basic understanding of sustainability from my own research, but now I’m fully immersed in it and have expanded my knowledge. This isn’t simply a passion for me, it’s a career path and I think others appreciate and respect that.

What lessons have you been able to bring from the classroom to your role at FourKites?

Tony: FourKites has let me really use the skills from my studies to help customers, carriers and brokers troubleshoot operational and technical challenges, and find creative solutions. From a more technical perspective, working with ArcGIS in my program has made me very comfortable digesting location data across time zones and being able to pinpoint issues as it pertains to APIs and data sources reporting to FourKites. Additionally, through learning about sustainability in the food industry, I’ve been able to have meaningful conversations about the end-to-end supply chain, from farmers to transportation!

Andrew: In my current course, we are learning about thinking in systems, which is all about viewing situations and issues from a macro level. It has been super helpful when working with FourKites customers to take a step back and try to understand how all of the pieces fit together and affect one another. This has allowed me to solve problems faster and ensure that everything is in alignment.

What advice do you have for those looking to merge their personal passions with their career?

Tony: The best part about merging personal passions and careers is that you’ll never end up sorry in the long run. Doors open, conversations are had, and people talk. Showing love and passion for something is what gets people’s attention and opens those opportunities.

Andrew: Definitely do a lot of research and understand what it will mean for you both personally and professionally. In the end, don’t be afraid to explore your options and get feedback from others! It may be scary, but if you’re passionate about it, go for it. If you’re in a great environment professionally, use that to your advantage and see where it leads. If I never pursued sustainability at FourKites and took the chance to advocate it to others, who knows where I’d be today!

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Click here to learn more about FourKites’ sustainability initiatives, including sustainability-focused products and our new Sustainability Center of Excellence.

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