Sustaining a passion for the planet after graduating from UCLA

By Karen Hallisey

For Michelle Barton, Kyle Graycar, and Austin Park, working towards a sustainable future started in college, then blossomed into full-blown careers. With commencement on the horizon, hear from these three UCLA alumni about how their passion for sustainability as students turned professional.

The spark of interest

Austin Park took a sustainability course during freshman year that cemented his interest. He joined E3 (the student sustainability advocacy group), helped organize Coastalong (the bike-powered eco-friendly festival formerly called Ecochella), and worked to raise awareness of the UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative.

For Kyle Graycar, the undergraduate experience was pivotal in his decision to work in sustainability.

“My science classes taught me how climate change worked and how urgent the problem is, while my club involvement showed me how to actually effect change and inspire the UCLA community to act more sustainably,” said Kyle.

Michelle Barton’s experiences at UCLA also spurred her interest in sustainability. As a fourth-year student, she joined the Undergraduate Students Association Council specifically to work on sustainability issues.

“Plus, as a biology major, the idea of a career in the applied sciences that would allow me to protect nature while promoting sustainable practices had huge appeal,” said Michelle.

Sustainability at work

Today, Michelle is the City of LA’s first-ever Biodiversity Program Manager with LA Sanitation & Environment. In her role with the City’s Biodiversity Program and Healthy Soils Program, she delivers public presentations, coordinates events, like the LA Bioblitz Challenge, oversees experts and City staff working on biodiversity initiatives, performs data analysis, produces technical reports, like the LA Biodiversity Index Baseline Report, and brainstorms projects, strategies, and programs the City can implement.

“Promoting and enacting sustainable practices that protect habitat, utilize nature-based solutions, provide equitable access to nature and parks, and mitigate the urban heat island, will both protect wildlife and ecosystems and help mitigate climate impacts, keeping neighborhoods cool and livable,” she said.

Eventually focusing on climate and energy, Austin earned an M.S. in Energy Resources Engineering at Stanford. He said, “My goal was to harness the power of nerdy math for emissions reductions.”

Marrying machine learning with climate solutions, a brief internship at Google connected him with Matt Wytock, CEO and Founder of Gridmatic, which he joined as a Machine Learning Engineer after graduating.

“I now spend about 80% of my time coding. I do my best to apply AI research to our wind, solar, and load forecasting models. I’ve also become very involved in developing our battery storage schedulers,” said Austin.

Kyle is now the co-founder of Decarbon, a carbon accounting and climate action app for individuals and businesses.

“Decarbon works to demystify climate change for everyday people with an experience that’s not unlike a financial budgeting tool; except, instead of tracking dollars and cents, users track carbon emissions,” said Kyle.

Advice for Bruins

Michelle advises to hone public speaking and technical writing skills, request informational interviews with individuals holding jobs of interest, accept new challenges, and take initiative.

Austin said, “The field of sustainability should include nothing less than the entire economy. As sustainability picks up momentum across sectors, there will be a need for nearly every skill set. Get involved!”

“Fundamental resources—air, water, and food—depend on healthy natural systems. For our wellbeing, sustainability work is essential.”

Kyle said, “Find a close community of friends and mentors who can both inspire you and keep you motivated. Acting on climate change is so much easier and effective when we act collectively.”

His parting words for the Class of 2023 and other Bruins?

“Climate change is an emergency. As daunting as that sounds, it’s important for us to get creative, stay motivated, and build the future we want to live in.”