Sean Flannery

Name: Sean Flannery

Undergraduate Major, Minor: Natural Science, Environmental Studies

Graduate Degree: Masters Degree in Environmental Planning 

Year: 2001

Where are you currently located and what is your position there?

I currently work in Minneapolis at Renewable Energy Systems Americas. RES is a development and construction company that focuses on wind energy and solar energy projects for the utility industry. I have worked for RES since 2010 and am currently a Permitting Director. I work on environmental and permitting matters for wind and solar projects to help take them from an idea to the point at which they can be constructed and begin producing clean electricity. I like to joke that I am the environmental geek, for a renewable energy company, but I am not really a typical environmentalist. Renewable energy makes economic and environmental sense, so it is an exciting industry in which to participate. 

Could you explain how your career path led you to where you are today?

When I graduated I knew I wanted to work in the environmental field, but that was a broad definition. I worked for about 9 years in environmental consulting doing a variety of activities that dealt with environmental laws. During my time there, I pursued a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning, and I also began to focus my work towards environmental permitting for energy projects. I found my undergraduate environmental studies coursework gave me a great platform to be successful at the UMN's Humphery Institute.

The energy sector has significant environmental impacts, but I saw much of that old infrastructure turning over to new and cleaner technologies which interested me. I saw the renewable energy field to be an area where my work could directly benefit the environment and counter the worst effects of climate change by cleaning up the impacts from electrical generation systems. It was also an area with significant growth now and into the future which seemed like an exciting and rewarding field to build my career.

What, if any, life or career experiences are you willing to share that were made possible by your time and program at CSB/SJU?

The most important aspects of my coursework were not specific classes, but the multi-dimensional structure to my overall mix of classes.  I took classes in math, biology, ecology, philosophy, social science, political science, and economics.  This breadth of coursework provided a great foundation for evaluating environmental issues, which are never neatly categorized into one area of study.  The Environmental Studies curriculum draws on the best attributes of a strong liberal arts education: multi-disciplinary study, critical thinking that can be applied to understanding new problems, and communication skills that are vital to effectively addressing these issues in the real world.

I was a bit of a generalist when I graduated, and in my early career in environmental consulting (for example, I did not have an advanced degree in a technical field of science). That was great for me though because I did not want to do graduate school immediately. I learned a great deal in my early job, and treated it as an extension of my earlier education. I found an area of work (renewable energy and environmental planning) that really interested me and then I opted to attend graduate school a few years later in something about which I was really passionate. 

I also connected with the Saint John's/Saint Ben's network early on in my career, and this has continued throughout my professional years. This has been a powerful tool to help provide me guidance and build my career.

What advice do you have for current students when it comes to being successful on campus and in life after college?

My advice for students; Study abroad, you will not regret it and it is very difficult to create a comparable experience afer college. Your education from CSB/SJU will teach you how to learn and how to communicate. Those things are diffuse skills, but vastly powerful when you apply then in the working world. You will not be "trained" for any job. You have to continue to learn and communicate and do the work once you are out of school to learn something new, communicate that to others, and use those diffuse skills to solve actual problems. Finally, embrace the liberal arts, if you are a science major take an economics class.