Excellence in Action

Nurit Katz ’08

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As UCLA’s first Chief Sustainability Officer, Nurit Katz ’08 works to foster partnerships among academic, research, and operational departments to create a world class living laboratory for sustainability. She also serves as Executive Officer for Facilities Management, which provides a wide range of services including the maintenance and renovation of building, grounds, and utility infrastructure. Additionally, she is an Instructor for UCLA Extension and Lecturer for UCLA’s Institute of Environment and Sustainability. Nurit holds an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, a Masters in Public Policy from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and a BA in Environmental Education from Humboldt State University.

Interviewed by Monique Beals • March 1, 2019

Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.

I attended UCLA for one year as an undergraduate. It was my first year of undergraduate, and at the time, I had grown up in Los Angeles and wanted to experience living somewhere else. While we have a lot of strong environmental programs now, UCLA did not have a lot in that area at the time. I transferred to Humboldt State University which is in far Northern California, near the border of Oregon. Some refer to it as “behind the redwood curtain”. My original focus was environmental education. After undergraduate and during, I worked a lot for environmental education type programs. I worked for LA County Parks and Recreation for a year taking kids hiking and teaching them about the natural world.

During that time, I ended up thinking about sustainability more broadly especially about the role of business and impacting issues that I cared about. I eventually came back to UCLA for graduate school and did a joint degree a MBA at Anderson and the Master’s of Public Policy at the Luskin School. I had the intent of most likely going into consulting after graduate school, but I got very involved in efforts at UCLA while I was here as a student. At the time, we had a sustainability committee but did not have a formal office yet. I was doing a lot of things as a graduate student that, now, I do in my professional role here. When this position came open, it really felt like it would be perfect for me. The summer after graduate school, I applied for the position and I was also working with a new Center at UCLA called The Center for Corporate Environment Performance. I was able to start that fall at UCLA, and I never left!

What inspired you to choose this career path?

I have always been passionate about issues around the environment ever since I was a little kid. I even organized my 6th grade class to adopt a rainforest. It was something I always cared about, and over the years, the ways I have found to make a contribution has shifted, but that passion has always been there.

How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?

I really took advantage of my time as a student to explore, which is something I encourage all the students I mentor now to do. There are so many opportunities to get involved on campus with different student organizations, committees, and task forces.
We have shared governance in the UC which means that a lot of decision making bodies and committees have student representation so I think that can be an excellent way to get experience as a student and understand the stake holder process and how to make change in a large organization.

I was also involved in student government my last year at UCLA. I was President of the Graduate Student Association. I think being engaged in student government is another wonderful opportunity and I learned a lot from that experience as well.

In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?

I reach out to the alumni network a lot, especially in helping our students and their career path. I love to mentor students whether they are undergraduates or graduates, or Extension students I teach in the Sustainability Certificate program. I’ve also had a lot of alumni come back and speak on campus at events or guest lectures. It has been really wonderful to have that community. Thankfully, there is a really strong network of alumni here in Los Angeles, so it is easy to have a lot of engagement.

What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?

I think the biggest challenge, and something I am still working on is juggling my passions, involvement, and all the different hats I wear at the university. It can be really difficult to be pulled in so many directions, and as I tell many of our students- you can’t sustain the world or your organization if you don’t sustain yourself.

A colleague of mine, Jaime Nack, also a UCL A alumna who is very engaged, shared with me a book called The Power of a Positive No. It is about how to say no to things in a way that still helps and contributes. I am definitely a “yes” person, so it has been a helpful concept for me as I learn to be more strategic in what I say yes to. As Coach Wooden said “Don’t confuse activity with achievement”.

What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in this field?

The advice I give to them is to really get out there and meet people. Especially while you are a student, a lot of doors are open to you. Reach out to folks who have jobs that are interesting to you or ask if you can take them out to coffee. Use your time in school to get to know your opportunities.

Also, really go to a lot of events. This field is changing rapidly and textbooks are not always the best way to get information. There is of course value in academic study, but going to different panels and events and networking there is really important for your career. If you are shy, know that networking isn’t really about talking. It is about listening. Ask someone a little bit about what they do. They’ll be happy to share and all you have to do is listen.

More broadly, some of the best career advice I got was when I was really overwhelmed with some of the decision making around what I wanted to do. It can feel really overwhelming to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life, and a dear friend of mine said that you really don’t need to know what you need to do with your life. A lot of people nowadays have like 16 different careers, so just find something you want to do for the next year or two that ideally will be challenging where you will grow and learn. That is something that helped me and a lot of the students that I have worked with to feel less overwhelmed.

How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?

The UCLA community is a huge part of my life. I engage with alumni and students and staff both on and off campus. A big part of my role is to kind of bridge the academic and administrative sides of the university. I help faculty, staff and students connect. Bridging silos is a big part of what I do and a way that I like to contribute to the community.
I also like leading tours, talks, and outreach. For the upcoming Alumni Day May 18th for the Centennial, I am moderating or leading about 6 different things that day. I really enjoy being involved.

What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?

I really do love this place. It is a community of really brilliant and service minded people. Folks are drawn to work in the public sector, because they care about making a difference in one way or another. Whether they are doing student services or doing research and creating a transparent solar cell. So much of what happens here at the university is motivated by a desire to have a positive impact on the world.

I’m very proud of everything we are able to do as a university to contribute to solving big global challenges.

And finally, what’s next?

I am still thinking about that. I just recently hit my 10 year anniversary here at UCLA, so this is a point of reflection for me. I think it is highly likely that I will end up a lifer here. I have had a lot of amazing colleagues here who have retired after 40 something years or longer. Because UCLA is like a small city, there really is an opportunity to grow in a lot of different directions. I think it is likely that I will stay, but what my path here looks like I am still figuring out.

 

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.

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