UNC is mapping out its success strategy for the next decade, calling it Rowing, Not Drifting 2030, with the goal of making UNC more student-success centered than ever. But what does that look like? It looks like providing opportunities and connections for students to access. Emmy Scott is one of those students.

Emmy Scott seems too vibrant to be running on five hours of sleep. Add up the hours devoted to her various roles, and you start to suspect that this Environmental Studies and Business Management major has somehow obtained a Time-Turner, Hermione Granger-style. She has three semesters left at UNC, and she’s already prepared herself to thrive in two industries, plus an additional field she explores in her free time. Her natural drive, hard work and big-hearted ambition account for most of her success. But Scott is a perfect example of why UNC is pursuing a mission of “Students First” — when UNC is at its best offering support and guidance, individual students are able to thrive.

UNC is already known for professors and staff who offer individualized attention to help prepare students for their careers. Scaling that strength to reach every single student is what “Rowing, Not Drifting 2030” is all about.

Scott grew up in Arizona, spending summers with her grandparents while her parents worked.

“They were pretty old-fashioned, so I wasn't ever like those kids that just sat and watched TV all day,” Scott says.

Her grandfather would take her to A-Mountain, hiking above downtown Tempe. They fed horses at local farms and went camping. Scott grew to love the outdoors. She also loved the performing arts, originally planning to study music engineering in college. But then she started looking for something with a more predictable career path, choosing to pursue music alongside her studies.

“So then I was like, OK, what I can do?” Scott says. “What else am I passionate about? And that brought me back to my memories of my grandpa.”

Scott says her home state university is one of the most sustainable in the country, so it seemed like an obvious choice for a student interested in environmental studies, but when she visited Colorado for a cheer competition in high school, she decided she wanted to move to the fellow outdoorsy state. She also wanted a university where the sustainability program wasn’t already set in stone and controlled by upper administration.

“I specifically wanted a university that had a lot of potential, and just maybe needed some direction,” she says.

When she visited UNC, she met with Mark Eiswerth, Ph.D., professor of Economics and co-director of Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program, who told her about Student LEAF (Student Leadership for Environmental Action Fund).

“I could tell right away how passionate she was about environmental topics,” Eiswerth says. “That was just a blast, to get to know a student before they’d even decided where to go to school.”

Student LEAF collects up to $10 from each undergraduate student’s fees every semester, and the program then processes and funds proposals for sustainable, student-impacting projects on campus. On her campus tour, Scott saw water bottle fillers installed via the Student LEAF fund.

“I was just very intrigued by the idea of a student-run organization that was able to make actual, physical change to the school,” she says. “And we didn't have to beg for money or apply for grants.”

Instead, she now coordinates grants.

When Scott arrived at UNC to major in Environmental Studies, she started attending every possible first-year student welcome event, making new friends and acquaintances.

She also started connecting with professors. Chelsie Romulo, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Geography, GIS, and Sustainability, and Scott has taken several of her courses.

“She’s not a student I worry about being capable or ambitious enough,” Romulo says. “I actually warn her not to take on too many projects because she’s so enthusiastic, so passionate.”

When Scott showed up for Student LEAF meetings as a first-year student, Romulo says her dedication immediately made her a candidate for the grant coordinator position, a paid position that involves working with UNC community members to prepare proposals for the rest of the team. The role also includes working for UNC Facilities Management and calculating the carbon footprint of the university.

“She's doing amazing things, and I’m really looking forward to see where she goes in her career,” Romulo says. “She's going to be successful in whatever she does.”

And it’s not just Scott who’s getting this experience. Romulo notes that Student LEAF hires students annually, from any major, for various positions. The program is unique to UNC in that students, not staff, run the program.

“It is fantastic experience,” Romulo says. “The students from Student LEAF are working for Denver Water; one is running sustainability at Pikes Peak Community College.”

Scott is also gaining experience as president of Earth Guardians, a student environmental activism organization.

“It's been like my little baby,” Scott says. “I got passed the club when there were like three members in it, and we've grown to about 12 to 20 people now.”

The club hosts monthly events, including an annual plant-based (“vegan”) food cookout in collaboration with the Marcus Garvey Cultural Center, a solar panel unveiling, indirect action (“peaceful protesting”) events, a workshop about wildfires, Earth Month events (to celebrate 50 years of Earth Day), and more. 

Eventually, Scott added a minor in Communications and a major in Business Management. She had told Eiswerth, the professor she’d met on her college visit, about her desire to be an environmental consultant, and he directed her toward the Kenneth W. Monfort College of Business and Professor Keiko Krahnke, Ph.D., chair of Business Management. Krahnke is a Business professor because she sees business as the quickest way to effect change, which she says will both allow Scott to fulfill her goals and have a steady career.  

“Environmental Studies and Business is a good combination because a lot of companies may be asked to adopt more environmental practices, and they'll be hiring someone like her,” Krahnke says.

Scott’s experiences at UNC have already allowed her to combine the two fields. She pitched her business concept for a plant-based, affordable fast-food restaurant in the collegiate division of MCB’s annual Entrepreneurial Challenge, earning second place and a $1,200 check to help turn her idea into reality. Even more valuable may have been the judges’ feedback, telling her that a broader menu typically doesn’t positively impact a fast food restaurant’s bottom line. This event came on the heels of an annual elevator pitch contest hosted by MCB, and a few months after a winning turn at the International Business Ethics and Sustainability Case Competition in 2019.

Pitching, Scott says, will be part of earning herself her first environmental consultant role.

“You have to walk up to companies and say, ‘This is why I believe you need it, and this is why I think I would be the best one for the position,’” she says. “Pitching is just a great skill to have. Practicing is great, too, because I talk a lot.”

Scott manages her pursuits with support from professors across UNC.

“I probably see about three to four teachers per week, just to make sure I'm on track with everything I'm doing,” she says.

She says the small class sizes at UNC allow her to make the most of academic relationships, such as talking with her professors after class rather than sending an email or waiting for office hours.  

“The connection that we have here at UNC, it's unbelievable,” she says. “You wouldn't get it at any other university.”

Eiswerth agrees.

“Many universities, even ones that are a lot like UNC on paper, faculty don't spend nearly as much time on advising,” he says.

Scott’s fellow club members, Student LEAF colleagues and friends also play a vital role in her support system. In addition to her aforementioned activities, Scott is involved with UNC’s cultural and resource centers, African Students United and Black Student Union, reflecting her passion for minority-owned businesses and her love of strong communities.

“I feel like it's just a really great place when I start losing my focus and I just start getting really stressed out about school, it's always a really good detox just to go into the cultural centers,” she says.

Scott says UNC’s support for student clubs and organizations is a key UNC strength. As long as an event put on by a Registered Student Organization is open to all UNC students, is not-for-profit, and offers values to the UNC community, it’s eligible for university funding.

“My Earth Guardians, we’re environmental activists,” she says. “So, I know we've done events that our higher-ups on the campus might not necessarily agree with, but they still allow us to do it.”

And thanks to her time studying at UNC, she’s come to realize that despite her activist bent, there are also costs to upending the current system that need to be carefully considered — a lesson that Krahnke emphasizes to her students.

“Every change that we make has an impact,” Scott says. “It will make a difference, every change, and whether that difference is good or bad, we have to really consider.”

Which is exactly what UNC is ready to implement: Change that will have positive impact on students like Scott, and help open doors for more students to have opportunities like Scott, in the coming decade. That is what Rowing, Not Drifting 2030 is all about. UNC

–By Rebecca Dell