Photo of University Hall

Green Teams Alumna Yvette Viasus ’20 is Mapping a Brighter Future

The PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies Green Teams internship prepared Yvette Viasus ’20 to advocate for broad access to renewable energy and launched her career trajectory.

Posted in: Alumni News and Events, Alumni Profiles

Yvette Viasus

As early as high school, Yvette Viasus ’20 was mastering the basics of computers and science. Even then, however, she was looking at the bigger picture.

“My twin sister had already decided to go to Montclair,” she recalls. “At the time, I was getting ready to take a gap year after high school. But when I joined her for a campus visit, I changed my plans.”

Although Viasus had originally considered studying international business, her passion for the environment led her to the University’s programs in sustainability science and geography. She chose a concentration in urban studies and became fascinated with geographic information system (GIS) mapping.

“Data has a deeper application when you are able to observe its geographic references,” Viasus explains. “Whether you are tracking pollution or the spread of disease, GIS mapping provides context that supports efforts to create a solution.”

The PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies (PSEG ISS) Green Teams internship program provided Viasus with the platform she needed to fully experience the application of sustainability science and impact of GIS mapping in driving business decisions.

“My Green Team was assigned to the University’s facilities department to recommend ways to reduce water usage across campus,” she says. “We learned that there was little or no access to spigots in places where groundskeeping workers needed to access water. We used GIS mapping to identify suitable sites to create a rain catchment system.”

“We also observed that many of the dorms had outdated faucet aerators and shower heads, which could be replaced to reduce water waste,” she adds. The team’s work provided tangible solutions for the University and earned a Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey environmental leadership award for reducing water usage.

While Viasus’ Green Team was addressing water usage at Montclair, other Green Teams were working on special projects for PSEG, Prudential, the city of Newark, and the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority.

“All of the teams came together regularly for career building sessions and networking,” she says. “We even visited the United Nations to learn about international sustainability initiatives. Green Teams gave us a high-level view of the careers we were preparing to pursue.”

The Green Teams internship, Viasus’ first, helped her see the breadth of the sustainability field. “People from all disciplines throughout the state were working in diverse fields, including healthcare, business, manufacturing, and hotel administration. We were all learning from each other.”

The program has run every summer since 2016, matching teams of students from multiple institutions and various disciplines with host organizations to tackle complex sustainability issues confronting our planet. “The PSEG ISS Green Teams program has successfully launched students into internships, green jobs and graduate and professional studies, serving as a training ground and diversity pipeline for long-term professional development in STEM education,” says Amy Tuininga, director of PSEG ISS in the College of Science and Mathematics. “We are so impressed by the students and proud of our Green Teams alumni for the impactful work they are advancing in their chosen careers.”

After completing her Green Teams internship, Viasus stayed on with PSEG ISS as a sustainability eco-center ambassador and then as an assistant project manager, supervising Green Teams working on projects for the cities of Newark and Jersey City. She gained additional experience through internships in environmental health and safety at Stryker; as a sustainability ambassador at Rocky Mountain Institute; and as a GIS data technician at Suburban Consulting Engineers, Inc. Like many Montclair students, she worked at part-time jobs and still found time to be active on campus, serving as president of the Montclair chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

To top off an already packed schedule, Viasus’ double major required two capstone projects, one focused on water sustainability at Montclair, and the other on community solar site suitability for the Dover, New Jersey community.

Her hard work was noticed. She earned the 2019 Stryker Sustainability Award as well as the 2020 Montclair Department of Earth and Environmental Studies Award for Outstanding Senior in Sustainability Science. Importantly, she landed her first career role as community solar engagement manager for Solar Landscape, a leading solar developer in New Jersey.

“At Solar Landscape I was able to build on my capstone work on community solar site sustainability,” she points out. “Through the state community solar program, the company builds solar projects on top of warehouses that connect directly to a community’s electricity grid and help lower the energy costs of those who subscribe to the projects. This extends solar power access to renters and to those whose homes are too small to effectively house solar panels, while lowering the cost of energy for those who participate in the community solar program. It was an environmental justice win.”

In 2022, Viasus was appointed a member of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Environmental Justice Advisory Council, helping to build the agency’s capacity through education and communications. Last year, she joined the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Low-Income Community Solar and Energy Assistance fellowship program, where she is developing tools to increase community solar enrollment in low-income and marginalized communities across the country.

Viasus encourages every Montclair student to get involved while at the University. “Take advantage of all of the clubs and internships,” she advises. “It will benefit your career plans and is good for your mental health, too. I started with Green Teams, which turned out to be a crucial first step in learning how I could bring value to my profession, and to the community.”