My entire mentality has changed

Student Spotlight

Sarah Hummel, a current student in the MA in Sustainable Design program, took some time out of her schedule to answer some FAQs about being a student in this program.

Where are you currently living?

Robbinsdale, MN

What attracted you to MCAD’s MA in Sustainable Design program?

In order to offer knowledgeable sustainable design solutions, I knew I needed a program that could teach me these skills as well as gaining a professional credential to add credibility to my expertise.

Has anything you’ve learned in the program changed your way of thinking?

As a designer, we are quick to interject material optimizations at the first thought of sustainability in our practice. Through this program, my entire mentality has changed from this reductionist thinking. In order to better understand the leverage point for sustainable design, I now seek to more holistically understand the relationships in order to apply a systems thinking approach to my design work.

Has anything you’ve learned in the program changed what you’d like to do with your career?

With my tenured background as a design leader in the mass retail space, I have first hand experience with both established and direct to consumers (D2C) newcomers on sustainability challenges and barriers to implementation ranging from value chain execution to consumer perception. There is an endless opportunity in this industry to redesign and reimagine products and services that people use daily. This is why my career ambitions have remained focused to successfully lead sustainability initiatives for companies and brands supporting economic growth through environmental stewardship and social innovation.

What has surprised you about the program?

What has most surprised me about this program is the wide range of expertise and backgrounds of my peers. The personal passions as well as industry knowledge shared by my peers has been invaluable to expanding the scope of impact that program can provide.

Is there a class project or assignment that you are really proud of?

A project I am extremely proud of was the development of a scrolling, website infographic for my Visual Communications for Sustainable Design class ( Not only did this lead to a deeper understanding in the Top 5 ways we can reduce the excess of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, but it paired my love of plant-based food with design. The lessons learned on how to properly design data outputs have been invaluable to communicating the impact of sustainable design solutions. This project also taught me best practices on how to use direct data sources to analyze and use to story tell for maximum impact.

What are you currently doing or working on?

At my current company, I am working towards transitioning my role and responsibilities from solely a Design Manager to a full-time Sustainability Strategist. This will allow me to deliver new services for our clients, creating a larger sustainability impact for brands at retail.

What is the most exciting or inspiring thing you’ve learned in the program so far?

I was most excited about better understanding networks and how an expansion of digital networks has truly changed our world. Learning more about the “six degrees of separation” shifted my mindset on how weak and strong ties could act as catalysts to behavior change in regards to sustainable design solutions for an emerging future.

What has been your proudest moment or project in sustainability or sustainable design?

While I enjoy educational moments, explaining complex sustainability topics with both individuals, businesses and clients about the “why” we need sustainable solutions, my proudest moments are now that I can deliver the “how”. As we learned in the program, education and awareness isn’t where sustainability stops, it’s all about being able to deliver solutions using sustainable design strategies.

What sustainability or sustainable design projects are you looking forward to working on?

I am looking forward to working on audacious, large-scale sustainability opportunities that include challenging the status quo for both businesses and individuals. Using sustainable design leadership and strategies to influence behavior change is key for building resilient businesses.

How have you applied what you learned in the program?

From daily client projects to industry talks, what I’ve learned in the program comes through in everything I share and do.

What have been the most important or useful things that you learned in the program?

Building a business case for sustainable design has been the most instrumental learning thus far. Continuing to build my career within the sustainability space meant I needed to learn the nuances of complex sustainability communication, while also clearly articulating the additional value sustainability can bring in a business setting.

What have you learned in the program that you wish everyone would learn?

I wish everyone could learn how to pause and reframe the problem before rushing to the solution space. Exploring problems more deeply would reduce “bandage solutions” and illuminate the leverage point within systems that sustainable solutions could help solve for.

What recommendations do you have for people considering a career in sustainable design?

Allow your passion for sustainability to be shared with others. When others see you leading by example and willing to share why it matters to you, their interest and social norms are challenged. My leadership style can easily be summarized with this quote I keep on a notepad near my desk – “Be enthusiastic as a leader. You can’t light a fire with a wet match.”

If you had a magic wand and could completely solve one sustainability problem, what would it be?

The consumption patterns that are now status quo. Too many things are made cheaply, using materials and processes that are harming people and the planet, to only last a few uses, then thrown “away”. Learning there is no “away” is key to shifting your mindset on how we can build a better future for all using sustainable design strategies learned in the MCAD MASD program.

Thank you, Sarah!

If you’d like to change your entire mentality about sustainability, and be able to deliver solutions, we invite you to explore the MA in Sustainable Design program!

Denise DeLuca / Former Director

Denise DeLuca is the Director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program. She was co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry Creative for Innovation, a network of creative professional change agents driving ecological thinking for radical transformation. Denise is author of the book Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation, which was illustrated by MASD alum Stephanie Koehler. She also teaches with the Amani Institute.

Denise’s previous roles include Education Director for the International Living Future Institute, Project Manager for Swedish Biomimetics 3000, and Outreach Director for The Biomimicry Institute. Denise is a licensed civil engineer (PE) and holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on modeling landscape-scale surface and groundwater interactions.  In addition, Denise is a Biomimicry Fellow and a member of the Advisory Council of The Biomimicry InstituteBoard Member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), on the editorial board of the Journal of Bionic Engineering, and an Expert with Katerva. Denise is based in Oregon.

contact:  [email protected]