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Nicholas (Nick) Nease is a 2026 candidate for a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science at Duke University. His journey exemplifies finding and taking the best from what Duke offers and incorporating it into the early stages of one's career.


Nick participated in the Sustainability Ambassador program offered through Sustainable Duke during his freshman year as a Duke student in 2022. The program is designed to give first-year students the opportunity to build a robust toolkit around interdisciplinary sustainability while functioning to build community and leadership skills among participants. As the first year of college is a lot about learning where one's aspiration lies, the Sustainability Ambassadors explore various aspects of sustainability through discussions and practical experiences. Nick took full advantage of the program, and as a result, the following year, he was leading the program as part of a selective paid internship program - the Green Devils - coordinated by Sustainable Duke.

The Green Devil intern program aims to advance student leadership in sustainability by bridging the gap between awareness and action in areas that complement Duke's Climate Commitment. Among a cohort of 14 Green Devils, three Green Devil interns focused their internship work on leading and coordinating the Sustainability Ambassadors program. Nick helped grow and improve the program, incorporating lessons from his first year as a participant. Specifically, he ensured meaningful bi-weekly meetings with small groups of ambassadors. They discussed energy policy, food systems, environmental justice, and leadership in sustainability. Nick would also emphasize professional development for first-year students, covering topics from principles of class selection to building a foundation for future careers by connecting with field professionals. 

 

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Another part of Nick's Green Devil Internship involved organizing field trips, such as visiting farmers' markets in the area. These activities aimed to build friendships and long-lasting connections between the Sustainability Ambassador students. The program's highlight for Nick was seeing the Sustainability Ambassadors deliver their presentations at the end of the year, as each of them developed a sustainability project proposal as part of the program. Nick shared, "What specifically got my attention was how creative, innovative, and Duke-specific the topics proposed by the Sustainability Ambassadors were."

Nick elaborated that seeing everyone's work at the end of the program was incredibly rewarding: "The ambassadors showcased the ideas they were working on throughout the year, demonstrated communication skills and created innovative sustainability projects." He continues: "This moment highlighted the strong friendships and bonds formed through the program. Seeing the practical solutions the students proposed for campus issues was exciting. Some projects, like waste management initiatives and a sustainable fashion show, have the potential to make a significant impact within Duke."

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The Sustainability Ambassadors program was established in 2020 as a way for first-year students to connect and build community amidst COVID. As campus moved away from the lockdown, the program has grown every year to support more students in developing a robust toolkit for sustainability changemaking on campus and beyond, as well as connecting a community of engaged, sustainability-minded students. We asked Nick what his contribution to shaping the program was. Emerging from COVID, he focused on developing consistency in the program, establishing regular meetings to bring the ambassadors together. Additionally, Nick and his fellow intern leaders encouraged the ambassadors to choose their group readings to make them more interactive and personal. This resulted in enriched discussions and brought diverse perspectives to the table.

For students at Duke interested in Climate and Sustainability, Nick recommends joining clubs and organizations dedicated to these topics. From his experience, the Duke Undergraduate Energy and Climate Club and the Energy & Environment Bass Connections program (specifically the "Enhancing Diversity in STEM Careers through Mentored Training" team) have been incredibly rewarding. "Sustainability is a lifestyle, so integrate it into everything you do. Learn to change your own habits, to influence the people around you, and to apply it to your work. That might look like cleaning up trash at the Eno, planning a sustainability event as part of your dormitory house council, coming up with ways to reduce Duke's energy consumption, or going thrifting. Whatever you choose, enjoy it and have fun," Nick says.

There are countless ways to get involved and make a difference. Find what excites you and dive in.

On top of building community and knowledge, Nick is also involved in applying innovative energy solutions and expanding renewable energy development to address environmental challenges. As such, he was a part of the ENV245 Sustainability Theory and Practice class in spring 2024, taught by Dr. Charlotte Clark, where he worked with the North Carolina Clean Energy Fund.

During the summer of 2024, Nick is interning at Charles River Associates, where he's researching the current state of existing and emerging electricity generation technologies. Afterward, he will study sustainability in Copenhagen and explore sustainable development in Northern Europe while experiencing the Danish lifestyle.

In conclusion, Nick shared with us his advice to students who want to get involved in sustainability and climate on campus. "Duke offers so many opportunities for sustainability, both in areas that need improvement and in thriving initiatives. Identify issues you're passionate about and work on solutions. The Sustainable Duke office is there to support you."

Nick is happy to discuss sustainability at Duke, and if anyone has any questions, he can be found on LinkedIn.


The article is part of the SCALe Spotlight series hosted by Sustainable Duke. The Sustainability and Climate Applied Learning (SCALe) Spotlight stories celebrate Duke students, staff, faculty and community partners who demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and climate education through applied teaching, learning and action. Email Sustainable Duke to nominate someone today and shine the SCALe Spotlight on them!

Dima Zlenko interviewed Nick and wrote the article.