Bergen sits at a cafe table in Minneapolis. She's wearing a number of silver rings and a white dress. A teapot sits in the foreground.
Bergen sits at a cafe table in Minneapolis. She's wearing a number of silver rings and a white dress. A teapot sits in the foreground.
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MA in Sustainable Design
2018
Sustainable Reuse Specialist at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Describe what you do for work and how you feel about it.

In my position at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), I’m a part of a team that works on waste prevention and reuse programming to improve sustainability sustainable materials management across the state. Based on Minnesotans consumption of (demand for) different products and materials, and the related environmental impacts for those items, our team is currently focused on preventing wasted food and increasing food rescue, extending the life of existing building structures and materials, and encouraging individuals to reuse, rent, and repair items as alternatives to buying new. I feel really positively being a part of this team and am motivated by my colleagues that continue to challenge norms around sustainable living, product design, business operations, and policy development. 

How did you get your job? 

After completing my MA in Sustainable Design at MCAD, I was interested in making a career transition to more actively use my degree and focus on sustainability in my work, not just my personal life and volunteer positions. A family member had a connection with an individual at the MPCA and encouraged me to set up an informational interview. As I was prepping for that conversation and exploring the MPCA website, I saw there was a position opening in a different part of the agency that was going to close the next morning. I frantically worked on my application that night, and “the rest is history,” as they say!

What inspires you/your work?

It’s obvious the way we’ve been operating isn’t working and is damaging the environment at an extremely concerning rate. It's important for me to have purpose and meaning in the work I do, and this seems like a cause that needs as many hands on deck as possible.

What advice do you have for current MCAD students and/or artists at the beginning of their creative careers?

Be open and patient—if an opportunity doesn’t come along immediately, find volunteer positions, meet with people for informational interviews (this is always an intimidating one for me!), and ask questions. Sometimes it can be hard to break into new areas/networks, but step outside your comfort zone and participate however you can.

How do you network yourself and your art?

I look for opportunities to volunteer - it’s a way to meet new people and share in a less formal way!

How do you feel about the Twin Cities?

I enjoy the Twin Cities—there are so many incredible restaurants, theaters, parks! Always something new to explore and experience.

Current obsession?

Hmmmmm... I’ve been burning a lot of incense at home. I’ve been fully remote working throughout COVID and it’s been a way to feel calm and centered during a time where a lot of things are out of our control.

Where did you earn your undergraduate degree and what was it in?

St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN): Environmental Studies degree, Economics degree with a Business Management Concentration (minor)

How did you hear about MCAD?

One of my mom’s close friends is a sustainable jewelry designer and earned the Professional Certificate for Sustainable Design through MCAD (before the MA was offered). She recommended I check it out!

Why did you choose to earn an MA at MCAD?

My undergraduate degree centered more on the biological and social aspects of environmental studies, and I was interested in expanding into more design and life cycle focuses. At the time, my job did not include a sustainability lens, so this program provided a way for me to incorporate that. Another element that made it possible for me to pursue this degree was having the program online. I worked full-time while completing my MA.

What was your biggest takeaway from the program?

It is essential that we shift our thinking to recognize systems and value interconnections when it comes to design, projects/programs, policy, etc., and notice that the best templates we have to learn from and mirror are already in nature.

Where were you located when you completed the program?

Minneapolis, MN

What was the online education like?

It was fantastic—as previously mentioned, it truly made this degree possible for me. I missed the person-to-person interaction and connection building with instructors and peers, but also loved that I was learning with individuals all over the world.

How has the MA impacted your career/your life?

I believe it provided me with the knowledge and language that helped me transition into a sustainability career - before the program I knew it was an important part of my belief system and way of life, but didn't have the all the terminology, tools, and stories to communicate that to others.

How do you incorporate sustainability into your everyday life? What advice do you have for others to do the same?

My goal is to keep the things I already own as long as possible, learning to maintain and repair them if I can. When that isn’t possible, I try to find secondhand replacements first, then locally-crafted replacements, or finally save up to invest in a replacement that is ethically-made and durable. It's incredible just how much “stuff” is out there! When you need something, ask friends and family first if they have it and no longer need/use it. The easiest example is clothing - if you need a jacket for an interview, but don't expect to wear one on a daily basis, ask to borrow a friend’s. If you are going to a holiday party, do a sweater swap to get something “new to you!” There’s a great community element to living more sustainably, and you also can incorporate meaningful items into your life that have more of a story/history than an item you quickly grab at a large retailer.