Finding a Focus

The Jackson School helped Kendall Yates discover her passion

If Kendall Yates could give her freshman self one piece of advice, she says it’d be that “college is going to be what you make of it.”

Yates, now a senior environmental sciences (EVS) major weighing job offers, wasn’t always so confident about college, or even what she was interested in. “My first year I was really just trying to figure out what was going on,” she jokes. She’d applied to the Jackson School of Geosciences’ EVS major based on her love of the environment and some good advice from her family and teachers.

As she gained experience at UT Austin, her interests and her place on campus started to come into focus. “It was in my sophomore year, doing a research project, when I got introduced to the professor-student dynamic you can have here,” Yates says. “You can be friends with your professors, especially in a school like Jackson where we all know each other.” Yates and her classmates worked closely with faculty in the field, studying the dynamics of groundwater in times of flood and drought.

After building strong connections with her professors and fellow students through research close to campus, during her junior year Yates went even further to explore her interests in the environment and sustainability. She spent the spring at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, taking classes and completing fieldwork that counted towards her Jackson School degree, and working as a research analyst intern for Sustainable Salons Australia.

Right after returning from Australia, Yates started her current internship as a sustainability analyst for Dell’s corporate social responsibility team. “That’s been an awesome experience because I get substantial work to do,” she says. “I’m talking to Dell’s suppliers to get them to improve their sustainable practices and their reporting techniques.”

Yates’ position at Dell, which she secured through Jackson School connections, has allowed her to imagine a future “dedicating my life to conservation and helping reduce consumption,” she says. She’s particularly interested in the invisible work of experts who contribute behind the scenes to make sure consumers can make more eco-friendly choices.

“If you want to make a difference, it’s so easy to do here,” she says — about Austin, the Jackson School and The University of Texas at Austin. “I just got involved in one professor’s lab and started reaching out to more people. UT is a great place to be empowered.”