Schuyler DeBree presents her research.


DURHAM, N.C. — Schuyler DeBree, an All-America defender for Duke Women’s Soccer and Environmental Sciences & Policy major who recently graduated with distinction, wanted to enrich her learning with more project-based classes and experiences.

DeBree decided to pursue the Certificate in Sustainability Engagement to augment her environmental sciences and policy coursework and get real-world experiences and skills.

The Certificate in Sustainability Engagement is designed to help students develop skills for assessing the complexities of sustainability in real-world systems and developing and implementing effective solutions to sustainability challenges. To earn the certificate, students must take four courses, complete two immersive co-curricular experiences and create a public-facing ePortfolio.

DeBree completed the certificate while also helping guide the Duke Women’s Soccer team to the Women’s College Cup last fall and earning All-America and Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors along the way.

Duke Environment corresponded with DeBree recently to talk about her interest in the certificate program, her undergraduate research, plans for the future, and the soccer player she would most like to play alongside.

What sparked your interest in the Certificate in Sustainability Engagement, and how has completing the certificate enriched your learning?

My interest in the Certificate in Sustainability Engagement came directly from taking a class with Charlotte Clark, who was one of the Duke professors who started the certificate. I took Sustainability Theory and Practice (ENV 245) with her in the fall of my sophomore year, and after completing the course, she told me that I could be one of the first people to graduate with the certificate. ENV 245 is the gateway course for the certificate, and it was one of my favorite classes at Duke. I loved that the class was project-based and provided real-world experience, as each group worked with a client on a semester long project.

Through the certificate, I continued to engage with project-based classes and experiences that have built tangible and professional skills far better than traditional classroom settings. The certificate also forces students to think holistically and reflect on their learnings, as both are key sustainable practices. Systems thinking and reflection enriched my learning throughout the certificate, and my Duke experience as a whole.

What advice would you give to other students considering this certificate?

I would highly recommend completing the Sustainability Engagement Certificate. Sustainability is going to be an essential part of every business, organization, government and individual’s life in the coming years, no matter the context. The certificate is also incredibly flexible – you can tailor your concentration to whatever you are passionate about and fill the class and experience requirements with things that are relevant and fascinating to you.

For me, the certificate has developed my professional skills by placing me in classes and experiences that were project-based, so I now have a long list of real-world projects and deliverables. These real-world experiences have given me tangible skills in financial modeling, video editing, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, Excel, memo writing, research, data analysis, etc. and a portfolio of final deliverables that I can show to potential employers to prove my capacity in each skill. Each project has also expanded my network. I have made meaningful relationships with professionals in a variety of sustainability-related positions.

How did you decide to research sustainability in the Kenyan tea industry, and what has been your biggest takeaway from your research so far?

I started to really love tea in high school because my mom and I drank it together. It would always make me feel a bit cozier and happier. In the summer after my sophomore year, I did an internship with Jay Golden. After the internship, he asked if I wanted to pursue a Graduation with Distinction with him as my advisor. He is a leading authority in sustainable agriculture, but I tend to get overwhelmed by the question of “how are we going to feed the growing population?” Tea was a great compromise because I love it and can read about it for hours (essential for writing a thesis) and tea does not directly relate to sustenance.

Studying the sustainability of the tea industry further distilled to looking at Kenya because their tea industry is leading the world in terms of volume of tea produced in compliance with one of the four main sustainable certifications (Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, Organic and UTZ). I wanted to see if Kenya’s “sustainable tea” was truly environmentally, socially and economically better to determine if Kenya should serve as a model for other tea industries, and if so, how.


Schuyler with members of the East Africa Tea Trading Assoc. in front of the
Toror Tea Factory, Kenya. Credit: Schuyler DeBree


My biggest takeaway from my research so far is that although tea is one of the most important commodities, there has been relatively little research done on the effectiveness of the sustainable certification programs in the industry. Especially when compared to coffee, work on the sustainability of the tea industry is underrepresented in literature. My work has served to provide an overview of the current landscape of sustainable certification in Kenya and identified the areas where more research is needed.

You also did a lot of visual arts coursework at Duke. How does that inform the way you approach environmental science and policy?

Visual arts classes were some of my favorite at Duke, and essential for my mental well-being and balance. I have always believed that in order to make meaningful environmental change, there needs to be an emotional connection established, in addition to developments in technology or policy. I think art is an incredible way to accomplish that, so it was fun to explore different mediums and art history topics, and also think through how I could combine my environmental passion with my love for art.

What has been your favorite Environmental Sciences and Policy class at Duke and why?

This is tough, because I have loved so many of them. One of my favorites was definitely Environmental Entrepreneurship with Jesko von Windheim because it was my first real introduction to entrepreneurship, marketing and financial modeling. The content of the class was really interesting, and I was learning skills that I knew would be useful in the future. This made doing the work easy because it was challenging but rewarding.

During your time at Duke you were also an All-America defender on the women's soccer team. The NWSL's Washington Spirit hold your U.S. rights. Do you plan to pursue a pro soccer career? If so, what are your plans for after your playing days are over?

Yes, I plan to play professional soccer for 3-4 years, as long as I am still loving it and healthy. I plan to return to graduate school afterwards and will continue to play throughout graduate school, again if I am still loving it, and can balance the workload.

I am hoping to work part-time and remotely during my time as a professional player to find a career path that aligns with my values, which will inform my decision to pursue either a PhD or a joint MEM/MBA degree, (or not go to grad school at all… we shall see).
If you could line up alongside any soccer player (male or female) past or present who would it be and why?

Carla Overbeck, because I have had the honor to be coached by her for four years at Duke, and I would have loved to play next to her as a center back or outside back. She is recognized as one of the hardest workers and best defenders in the history of women’s soccer, while also being fun-loving and light hearted. She is the kind of player that you would work hard for, just because of how hard she was willing to battle for you.