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Master’s In Sustainability Grad Fights Food Waste At World Wildlife Fund

Find out how one Master’s in Sustainability Management grad from the Kogod School of Business is combatting food waste in her World Wildlife Fund job


Wed Oct 20 2021

When leftover restaurant food doesn’t sell or we throw it away because it’s expired, where does it go?

That’s a question that for years played on the mind of Samantha Kenny, a Master’s in Sustainability Management (MSSM) graduate from American University’s Kogod School of Business.

Instead of mulling over an answer, she’s turned that question into a career. After graduating from Kogod, she turned an internship with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) into a full-time role as a senior program officer for food waste. 

Wasting no time tackling environmental issues c512e734600579ff73d964d3867fffb3b8ddabe5.jpg

Samantha has always been passionate about sustainability. After graduating from American University with an undergraduate degree in environmental studies and working with the university’s Office of Sustainability during that time, she knew that a master’s in sustainability was the next step for her.

“I was really excited about an interdisciplinary program where I could work to address conservation and sustainability problems at scale,” says Samantha.

During her time on the university’s student sustainability team, she gained experience doing waste audits in residential halls and class buildings. The master’s in sustainability degree presented an opportunity to learn more about the impact of excess waste on the planet.

What really helped her was that she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. “I was pretty gifted at going through the trash,” laughs Samantha, who was born without a sense of smell, making her the perfect candidate to get involved in waste management.


She’s chosen to tackle a problem that needs to be urgently addressed. On average, around 40% of the food that's grown is wasted every year, according to research by WWF and Tesco.

“Food waste creates immense problems for the environment,” explains Jennifer Oetzel (pictured), a professor in sustainability management at Kogod. “If you’re not consciously composting fruits and vegetables, then the waste goes into a landfill, and if it's not properly aerated and treated, it doesn’t produce any benefits.” 


Food in landfills decomposes to methane, which can be responsible for up to 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to a large chunk of the climate crisis.

The issue of wasted fresh produce is just the tip of the iceberg—wasted canned goods, meats, and the packaging of these products exacerbate the problem due to the labor and energy used in their manufacturing and disposal.

“Somebody can make a huge difference tackling the challenge,” believes Jennifer.


Landing a World Wildlife Fund job after a master’s in sustainability

At Kogod, Samantha dived deeper into sustainability issues in the MSSM program, learning how to design projects with triple bottom line benefits in mind, helping people, the planet, and businesses simultaneously. 

Kogod’s STEM-designated master’s in sustainability management combines courses in green business, management, and sustainable finance with sustainability-focused topics, ensuring graduates consider environmental matters holistically. 

“The master’s in sustainability taught me how to think in an intersectional way to tackle waste projects,” notes Samantha. 


Students in the program have four career tracks to choose from, including sustainability executive, sustainability entrepreneur, sustainability consultant, or sustainability policy/communications executive.

The location in the heart of Washington, D.C., also means students are in proximity to an array of environmental institutions and organizations. 

“This interaction between policy, business, and sustainability is what makes the program so unique, preparing students to work across governments, businesses, or nonprofits,” notes Jennifer.

During her first year, Samantha was able to put what she had learned into practice during an internship with WWF. This is when she began to focus more specifically on food waste management in the hospitality and food service sector. 

“What drew me to WWF is the great breadth of experience and expertise housed within the global WWF network,” says Samantha, who landed a full-time role after graduating and now works for the organization as a senior program officer for food waste.

She’s the global coordinator of WWF staff working on food loss and waste, supporting regional and national teams to address food loss and waste throughout systems.

She says practical team activities and the tight-knit cohort in the MSSM program provided the opportunity to learn how to leverage the skills of an entire team. The international capstone project also allows students to travel to study sustainability issues in European countries like Denmark or Sweden, renowned for their sustainability expertise. 

“The number one skill I learned from the MSSM was how to build multidisciplinary teams that are up to the challenges we're facing—no one can have all of the skills at once to tackle such systemic problems,” she notes. 

Student Reviews

Kogod School of Business - American University




On Campus

Clean and well maintained campus

I am completely enamored with this school. The entire student body is driven, inclusive, and highly intelligent. The decision to attend American University is not made haphazardly. Its close proximity to Washington DC, making it one of the most strategically located schools after Georgetown, means it's just a short train ride away. The campus is well-maintained, with mostly attractive buildings, although there are a few that are less appealing. Additionally, there are numerous excellent food options available. The wide range of clubs and organizations to join is remarkable. It is undeniably a school filled with immense passion.




On Campus

City life

I’m having a wonderful time at American University. I love that I can get to a big city and still feel like a traditional campus. Sincerely, it is a school that may require some adjusting to, but in the end, it is a very good school with numerous opportunities for its students. The atmosphere in AU is so great that it pushes you in a positive way and offers every opportunity you could want.




On Campus

Amazing helpful professors

American College is an incredible school with astounding teachers. Best professors I could have asked for at an amazing school. My opinion is that American University's professors are its greatest asset. They are extremely intelligent and always eager to assist their students. They go above and beyond in their classes to make sure that their students do their best.




On Campus

AU Review

The workload is quite high and AU is definitely not an "easy" school. Students take their studies very seriously and can almost always find a group in the library, DAV, Starbucks or MGC. Courses can be quite ambitious if the right courses are offered and the admissions process can be confusing at times, but with the help of an advisor it is quite easy to navigate. The library can be crowded, and while it's not huge, there are plenty of other places to study on campus. The professors really want to help during office hours and interact with students. I've had good experiences with the professors and workload at AU, but it's an expensive city.




On Campus

Majoring in Political and International Relations

The instructors are unique and the classes can be boring at times. Check-in is stressful (but it is everywhere). The workload is what I expected. The most popular majors are international relations and political science




On Campus

I Love Being A Musical Theater Major

I love being a musical theater student, if you want to help behind the scenes, if you want to be an assistant director, if you want to be a director, if you want to write, you can do anything at this academy, very supportive, it's amazing, they are always there to help you. This is their working time. Even after the audition tells you what you did wrong, you can do better, or if you get picked, you know why they picked you, which is great




On Campus

AU's Business Model

Overall, there were a lot of good opportunities at UA, both in terms of course range and faculty. However, I had a few complete misfires. People who shouldn't have taught at all. Like all universities, AU's business model is to hire hands-on assistants so they don't have to pay them extra or perform well. They are signed and if that does not work, they are not hired any more. The problem with this is that you end up with people who are unqualified and bring their own agendas, biases that may or may not be based on research. Most of the professors were absolutely fantastic.




On Campus

AU - The Real Problem With Academics

Some teachers are amazing, some awful - typical of any school. But the real problem with AU is that many students don't care about academics as much as other things (eg, partying). The academics are really interrupted by the Greek life and the social life of the students. This makes it difficult for students interested in academics to get the most out of their school experience. Some students do not take classes seriously and do not respect teachers and other students. Courses and opportunities at UA are perfect for people who want to take advantage




On Campus

American University - The Best Place to Study

They know their stuff - I chose American University because the campus is beautiful and the biology program is relatively small. But after the first semester, I realized that all the professors, especially the people in the science department, are experts in their field. They are enthusiastic and helpful in lecturing; even the TAs who teach the labs are amazing and engaging.