WashU helps 2015 grad turn childhood ecology interest into life passion

When Danica Yu was in elementary school, she decided to join the Ecology Club. That interest in the environment and passion for sustainability stuck, and she just graduated from WashU with a degree in environmental policy and anthropology.

“As a child and teenager, my environmental involvement was mainly at the service level,” Yu said. “But when I came to college – and especially after a class on issues in environmental justice – I have become much more passionate about the policy and justice aspects.”

A Naperville, Ill., native, Yu ended up at Washington University because not only did the campus “feel like college” and seem like a great fit academically and socially, but it was one of the few schools that offered an environmental policy program.

She didn’t waste time getting involved in her area of interest when she arrived at WashU. She entered right into the Pathfinder program, a select program concentrating on environmental field work. Yu was one of only 18 people accepted into the two-year program, which took her to the Mojave Desert in California her freshman year and Hawaii during sophomore year.

“That’s one of the reasons I was attracted to WashU,” Yu said, “and one of the courses that fueled my passion for the environment.”

Other such interdisciplinary courses included Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic, which involved working in a pro bono clinic in the Law School, and Sustainability Exchange, where she worked with a group to analyze data after a 100-year-old apartment building was renovated in ways that would allow it to function as a net-zero energy structure.

Yu has also had the opportunity to serve as an intern with WashU’s Office of Sustainability for all four years. As a freshman, she was hired to help start the Green Offices Program, a sustainability certification focused on office spaces. She said this was one of the most valuable experiences she has had at WashU, because she gained increased confidence as she interacted with faculty and staff, and grew as a person and student as she carried a great deal of responsibility.

During her WashU tenure, she has held internships in both nonprofits and governmental agencies, including the Environmental Law Institute and the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division. She also studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. Now, she’s ready to explore the private sector. After she graduates, Yu is headed to Google, where she will work in recruiting for the corporate giant.

She’s keeping her options open for a long-term career, however, saying she definitely plans to move back into the sustainability field after gaining the experience at Google. Yu doesn’t know where that will take her, exactly, but she credits her time and experiences here at WashU for providing her with a multitude of options for the future.