Sustainability grad student sets example

Perhaps there’s no higher praise from a professor about a student than to say, “I would love to clone him.”

That’s what director of the Sustainability Graduate Programs, Dan Fogel, said recently about Michael Aper, who will be among the first program graduates this August.

“We’re trying to get people with some maturity in our program – he’s clearly had that,” said Fogel, Graduate School of Arts and Science research professor in sustainability. “He’s really a perfect candidate for our program; he fits very well, and he’s very dedicated to the area of sustainability.”

The master’s program, one of a select few in the nation, was created by the Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability (CEES) to give students and early to mid-career professionals the diverse skillset they need to work in the global sustainability marketplace. It’s an interdisciplinary one-year program that combines coursework in the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, management and law.

Aper agrees that the program has been a great fit for him. “The people I’ve been able to work with, especially the faculty and staff, they’re great,” he said. “There is such a depth of knowledge in each one of the courses and it really contributes to the learning experience.”

The Prescott, Ariz., native found his way to Wake Forest after first following in his family footsteps to enlist, heading to Korea and Afghanistan right after high school in 2007, courtesy of the U.S. Army infantry. When he came home, he enrolled at Northern Arizona University and earned his bachelor’s degree in community development and sustainability. He still had some GI Bill money to take advantage of which led him to apply to Wake Forest’s program.

“I was always interested in sustainability and it was already big in 2010, but I just felt like it was something that was important that I wanted to get into,” he said. “I’m even happier today that I made that decision. For my own personal growth, I’ve learned a lot about how the world operates.”

For an upcoming speaker’s panel for his Applied Sustainability course, Aper was responsible for contacting potential candidates with military backgrounds who had worked in the sustainability field. He is also working on Fogel’s next book project, “Sustainable Strategy: A Natural Environmental Lens on Organizations and Management,” by helping to write and compile about 30 profiles that will be included in the book’s chapters. He was also involved in the Game Day recycling program during football season.


One of the things Aper has appreciated most about the master’s program is the variety of information and activities made available to students. One field trip took students to a hog farm to learn about anaerobic digestion of manure. Another took them to a T-shirt manufacturer that specializes in sustainable printing/dyeing processes.

“This manufacturer had completely integrated the people-profit-planet model into their operation,” Aper said. “It was awesome to see people making these principles work and to have the understanding of what the larger picture is, in order to connect the dots.”

With graduation looming, Aper is looking to marry his military experience with sustainability, he said, because there’s a lot of potential for the Department of Defense to expand on practices already in place and lead the way with new ones.

“I’d like to get into energy security,” Aper said. “It’s something that I really enjoy and I’m moving in that direction because there’s such a range of things you can do and be involved in.”

Fogel said that Aper’s Army training and experience has served him well while at Wake. “He’s done an excellent job,” he said, “and is always respectful, dedicated, hardworking – things his peers recognize, too.”

Aper credits that behavior to his mother who always says, “’Good manners don’t cost a thing, but they open a lot of doors.’”

Categories: Admissions, Faculty, Student, Sustainability, Top Stories