How an MBA from Presidio helped alum Allyn McAuley discover his passion for waste management.
Hello, Allyn! Thanks for connecting with us. Could you tell us where you currently work and what inspired you to pursue a career in that field?
I work for the city of Fremont, CA, in the environmental services division, and specifically, I specialize in waste management. My work often involves managing contracts with waste haulers and carrying out the various waste reduction, recycling, and composting programs that the city has.
While at Presidio, I explored several different environmental fields and was interested in many other areas. But after completing several waste management-related projects, such as working with the UCSF Parnassus campus, I realized my interest in waste management was something I wanted to pursue. Fast forward to post-graduation, I had taken on a few part-time roles, one of which was working as a StopWaste tour leader at waste transfer stations in Alameda County. The waste transfer station is a kind of waypoint where materials go temporarily before going to the dump or before recyclables go out to processing locations. We conducted tours for fourth-grade students within the Alameda County public school district. Classes would show up, and we had an education center available where we would do activities; students would put on their vests and hard hats, and we’d go out and look at the garbage and the other materials – it was a really fun experience!
I learned a lot more about the waste management industry, became even more interested in it, and gradually leveraged that deepening interest and translated it into a full-time position in waste management with the city of San Jose. Eventually, I switched to where I live now in Fremont, which meant a much shorter commute, and I could ride my bike to work.
Which degree program did you pursue at Presidio?
I completed the MBA program as a full-time student from 2013 to 2015 and was one of Presidio’s career-changers; I initially worked in the family business of medical software. My bachelor’s degree is in environmental studies, and after a while in medical software, I felt the itch to make a change. Cue Presidio. I wasn’t working while pursuing my MBA because I wanted to experience everything about Presidio’s MBA program and community fully. I participated in several different clubs; I went to Kenya with the International Sustainability Club, participated in student government and the Volunteering Club, and took a summer fellowship – all sorts of different things. It was amazing!
As someone who changed careers, I bet those experiences were helpful because you had the chance to explore the spaces you might want to go to next.
Exactly, yes. I was building that foundation to start a new career, which began through some volunteering opportunities. One of which was with Wiser Earth, a former nonprofit organization of Paul Hawken’s, which also happened to be where I learned about Presidio.
So is that how your path toward Presidio began? During your work with this nonprofit?
That’s exactly right. During undergrad, I’d learned about natural capitalism, Paul Hawken, and the Lovinses, and I was curious to know more. I looked up Paul Hawken and his different endeavors and discovered he’d started a nonprofit in San Francisco called Wiser Earth. While volunteering there, Wiser Earth’s director at the time helped me form the idea of doing a sustainability-focused MBA, which ultimately led me to discover Presidio Graduate School. I had looked at a few programs in the area at the time, but Presidio definitely stood out as the program for me.
What about Presidio’s program stood out so much versus some of the others that you were looking at?
I was looking for that sustainability component, something different than the traditional MBA. After attending an on-campus information session, I realized Presidio’s environment was what I wanted.
Presidio students’ energy and excitement were incredible, and learning about how so many Presidians were pursuing and receiving things like Climate Corps fellowships made for an exciting, buzzing atmosphere.
Can you tell us more about your student experience? How did it help prepare you for the work you’re doing now?
It was incredibly helpful in so many ways. As I mentioned, my sustainability-related experiences before Presidio were my environmental studies courses during undergrad, primarily science-based classes. I quickly realized that my MBA courses focused on sustainable business were much more helpful for me and my development. Another essential part of my experience was the people and the connections I made. With Presidio’s network, I came across someone who had a connection to almost every opportunity I’ve been interested in or applied for. I could connect with them and get a deeper and more personalized perspective on the opportunities I was interested in pursuing. There’s a genuine willingness to help each other within Presidio’s community.
To add to that, the bonding that happened in the program was profound. I really felt like I got to know the people in my cohort very quickly, and everyone was so positive and open to putting their hearts into the program. It all came together to make my experience a magical two years. I experienced being a part of such a positive environment with people working their butts off to do good stuff for others and our planet. In other facets of academia, I don’t think you necessarily experience that too often.
Tell us more about your trip with Presidio’s International Sustainability Club to Kenya.
We went there to work with a nonprofit that provides micro-loans to women entrepreneurs to help them launch small-scale businesses. It was quite an experience and incredible working with that organization. They had a very Presidian-type focus in that they didn’t want to push some agenda or pre-formed idea onto the people they were working with. They instead listened to precisely what each entrepreneur needed and ended up helping them execute various projects. We ended up running a crowdfunding campaign that raised around $20,000.
That sounds amazing! As someone who’s had an interest in environmental studies and sustainability for quite a long time, what is it about Presidio that makes you hopeful for the future?
There’s so much more incredible work going on compared to when I was younger. I also think there’s increased public awareness, especially regarding the younger generation’s understanding of and enthusiasm for environmental conservation and sustainability. Although we’re seeing many of Presidio’s longstanding values finally becoming more prevalent in other facets of business and society, it can sometimes feel very niche and undervalued when you see giant corporations with a two-person sustainability team. But I’m definitely someone who believes in the importance of taking daily, small actions, and with so many people doing that, it will make a difference. Presidio is making all the right moves, and they made it easy for me to plug into the mindset of creating change for good. It’s slow progress, but I think we’re in a much better place than we were when I was a kid.
What advice would you give aspiring changemakers and people looking to step into a program like Presidio’s or your field in waste management and city infrastructure?
I’d definitely say go for it with Presidio. I had a transformative experience and would do it again a million times over.
It’s been so valuable for my career change. It can be challenging to switch fields; you have to be willing to take on more entry-level positions when you’re used to working at a higher level in your previous industry. But Presidio made it possible to take those initial steps, so getting a full-time job in an industry I liked was much easier. I needed to get my foot in the door, get involved, and try to be of service, and my experience at Presidio opened many doors. I’m so happy I switched to this field. I can’t imagine doing anything else – I love looking through everybody’s garbage!
Thank you so much to Allyn McAuley for sharing his journey as a Presidian change-maker! If you’re interested in learning more about Presidio Graduate School and how we can help you further your career in sustainability through our MBA, MPA, and dual degree programs, you can contact us today to find out more.