Jenny Fung graduated from WashU in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Biology and International Area Studies with a focus in Sustainable Development. Today she works for Azavea as a Software Engineer, but has previously worked with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment as a Wetlands Coordinator and with WashU’s very own Office of Sustainability as an Alternative Transportation Associate. Now, Jenny specializes in coding geospatial web applications for social and civic impact and continuously aims to bring sustainability into her work.
As part of the Alumni Series, Mikaela Gatewood spoke with Jenny to learn more about her career and gain further insight into how WashU has helped bring her to where she is today.
How did your years at WashU prepare you for a career in sustainability, especially your position at the Office of Sustainability?
During undergrad, I explored many facets of sustainability work. Outside of my studies, I did field work at Tyson Environmental Research Center, farmed at the Burning Kumquat, co-organized a food and farming summer camp, submitted to the Olin Sustainability Case Competition, defended natural lands from development with the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic, and was, of course, an Alternative Transportation intern at the Office of Sustainability.
The Office of Sustainability was a valuable experience because my work bridged on-the-ground people-to-people involvement with school policy. OOS also gave me a model for healthy workplace environment, with wonderful bosses like Phil Valko, and then Will and Andy, to work with. It’s so important to recognize a healthy workplace environment, but it can be a lot harder in the moment to distinguish.
What positions and work have you been involved in since graduation? How did it lead to your position now at Azavea?
I was really interested in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and urban planning in undergrad and wanted to somehow continue that line of work. Entry-level jobs are far and few between, but I noticed by looking through job postings at organizations I admired that there was no shortage of openings for IT roles. So, I attended a coding boot camp and soon after was hired as a Software Engineer at Azavea, a geospatial applications and data analytics B Corp.
Azavea is certified as a B-corporation, what does that mean and what does that look like in the work environment?
“B Corp” is a certification that corporations can earn based on how sustainably oriented they are. B Corps receive a score across various criteria, where a higher score is more prestigious and higher impact. It’s similar to how coffee can earn fair-trade certification or buildings earn certain levels of LEED certification. B Corp corporations believe in the ability of businesses to affect ethical change via markets. I think B Corps have the potential to shake the status quo on what a successful profit-making business model can look like, but the envelope must continue to be pushed.
Can you tell us about a project that you’ve been proud of since joining Azavea?
I’ve been most excited about Azavea’s climate work, which resulted in the Climate API and Temperate.io. We processed a huge dataset from NASA that predicts climate across the world until 2100 into an API (Application Program Interface), which is usable by scientists, students, or data journalists. Using this tool, city and municipal planners of small to mid-size cities can understand and leverage that data to come up with climate change adaptation plans that are also compatible with the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (an international coalition of cities and local governments with a shared long-term vision) requirements.
What are some goals you have as a software engineer? Are there any projects you’d like to complete in the future?
My biggest professional joy is mentorship. I hope to teach and support those younger in the field than me, especially queer and trans, people of color, and women. This summer I am co-mentoring a software fellowship on the climate change data mentioned above, check it out!
What is your advice for WashU students interested in pursuing careers in sustainability?
I generally encourage students to try out all they can throughout college and really reflect on what aspects of a field or activity are a personal fit or not. WashU is pretty unique in that it allows students to take classes in any school. I took some eye-opening courses in architecture/design, through University College, and engineering classes all on top of my degree work at Arts & Sciences. WashU even offers a unique GIS certificate program that is accomplishable in 4 assumed years of undergrad, if you start early. Don’t let your biases hold you back from discovery.
Interested in connecting personally with more WashU alumni involved with sustainability work? Join the WashU Sustainability Network LinkedIn Group–an online networking and resource group that brings together alumni, students, parents, staff, and faculty to network, explore, discuss trends, and share technology, business, and market information in all areas of sustainability.