There are seasons in life when change is inevitable, and often, these moments propel personal transformation.

Sign that reads, " Sugar House Entrance Maple Displays."

For me, one such moment was the passing of my mother in 2021. In the wake of this loss, I decided to return to school to pursue an Executive MBA with a concentration in sustainability. It was the perfect program. Tuesday night classes that fit with my family’s schedule, an in-person option at a faith-based university, and a two-year commitment. However, all of that changed after my summer courses.

My concentration required me to take Principles of Sustainability and Advanced Sustainability Study in New England. Although, after completing these courses, I found myself unable to close this chapter of my learning journey.

Both courses ran in parallel. Principles of Sustainability reviewed the history of sustainability and dug into each major practice area: renewable energy, green buildings, food systems, and more. The advanced study course utilized the book Changes in the Land by William Cronan, along with curated content and a week-long group travel experience led by the founding director of the Institute for Sustainable Practice at Lipscomb University.

The content, structure, and community were everything I needed, although I came in with a bit of an advantage in one practice area: food systems. My dad is a farmer, and I have been selling produce at farmers’ markets across Tennessee since before I can remember, but there’s always more to learn.

Man sitting on a stool in old-fashioned attire.The trip to New England was nothing short of life-changing. We started with a voyage to give homage to one of the original sustainability champions, Henry David Thoreau. Like a dream, we were greeted by a local historian dressed and in character — an amazing experience! After our tour, we ventured down the path Thoreau likely meandered and took a quick dip in Walden Pond.

As the week continued, the classroom came to life as we trekked across Vermont and New Hampshire with many hands-on learning experiences. We visited cutting-edge recycling and compost centers, learned sustainable farming techniques, toured zero-energy homes, spent time in a modern design school, met with city leadership, toured a district heating and cooling plant, and even participated in a community workday at a sustainable living community, complete with composting toilets. (If you’re curious, they don’t smell!)

The last day of our trip was all about green buildings, the most relevant and impactful to my role at Cisco, where I lead solutions and product adoption within customer success for hybrid work, including helping our customers use our technology to turn their buildings into smart spaces. I was blown away by one site visit’s sophistication and innovation, and it was my first time seeing a geothermal system with radiant heating and cooling. And then, when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the trip concluded in the best way. In Boston, we toured the city’s most sustainable building. We met the property’s Vice President of Sustainability — an industry thought leader — and several architecture subject matter experts. We learned about solar PV, rainwater harvesting, green roofs, biophilic living walls, and machine rooms from the amazing team responsible for designing and maintaining the buildings.

Six people in a lake.As perfect as the stops were, the van rides with my classmates were the best conversations on the trip. We debriefed, shared research, and even geeked out in our respective areas of expertise — engineers explained the technical aspects, and non-engineers explained the business and operations. It was the perfect mix of diversity for a well-rounded discussion. I even have a classmate’s drawing on scrap paper outlining how Nashville International Airport’s (my home airport) HVAC system utilizes water from an abandoned rock quarry.

Shortly after returning from the trip, I officially declared a double major: MBA & Masters of Sustainability. This semester, I’ve added Water Management and Green Buildings to my MBA course load. In a few months, I’ll take another trip — to Austin — for my Sustainable Building and Construction course.

I look forward to graduating in December and seeing how I can leverage all this learning to help Cisco do even more for our customers in the sustainability space. I’m super grateful to Cisco’s emphasis on sustainability, the company encouraging us to learn and grow our careers, and the tuition reimbursement to make it possible. I couldn’t do it without my team for supporting me and carrying the calls when “Audrey had class” for the past two years. It’s been a life-changing journey that I’m excited to continue!

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Audrey Roberts

Global Customer Success Adoption Lead for Hybrid Work and Cisco Spaces