Staff Spotlight – Maria Gutiérrez, Sustainability Engagement Manager

Image of Maria Guitérrez.

Maria Guitérrez is on a mission—to integrate sustainable practices into Yale’s culture. As a sustainability engagement manager, Maria is part of a team whose charge is to advance sustainability in the scholarship and operations of the University. She works primarily with Yale students and has resurrected Spring Salvage—Yale’s annual resource recovery program, which had been on a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

Maria was born in Mexico City, Mexico, is the oldest of four, and moved to the U.S. to attend college. While at Pennsylvania State University, studying art history, she took an Egyptian art course that greatly impressed her and it became a passion, eventually leading Maria to Yale and a Ph.D. in Egyptology. She has gone on archeological digs as a field artist, studied abroad at the American University in Cairo, and completed an M.A. in Egyptian Art and Archeology from the University of California, Berkeley.

As a Yale student, she wanted more work experience. In 2014, her Yale career began with a one-year paid internship in the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS). While completing her thesis, Maria decided to stay in higher education administration, taking a Title IX program manager position in the Office of the Provost.

In fall 2021, Maria joined the Office of Sustainability, where she continues to contribute positively to the Yale community and beyond. Maria believes in the importance of intercultural communication and that exchanging ideas creates a positive environment for making cultural change. She sees herself as a connector, promoting exchanges that lead to positive outcomes.

During a recent chat, Maria talked about her passion for sustainability, spending summers with family, and meeting Handsome Dan XIX!

How did being a Yale student inform how you do your current job?

Coming to Yale as a student provided me with first-hand knowledge about some of the things that are interesting to our students. That awareness helped me structure successful graduate student programming while working at OISS. I understand the inquisitiveness of being a Yale student and the pressures and gaps they experience. When developing programs, we work around those gaps to get the work done so students can thrive and the programs can flourish.

What is the biggest challenge of being a sustainability engagement manager?

The biggest challenge is also the most significant opportunity, and that is to create long-lasting, effective, and positive culture change. We are doing this while working towards creating a sustainable way of working and living, where we manage our needs but do not rob future generations of being able to have the same opportunities we do.

You have 60 seconds to engage someone on sustainability. What would you say to them?

Come join us! Join us in this amazing and worthwhile effort to implement positive changes in how we live! We need you because we must come up with many different sustainable solutions. To do that successfully, the more minds we have working together, the better! Also, there is not just one way of contributing to sustainability. Problem-solving works best in smaller communities; all contributions are welcome.

What is your biggest hope or goal for sustainability at Yale?

I hope that eventually, sustainability will be a seamless part of our culture, that we won’t even have to think about it. It will be engrained in everything we think and do. I also hope that we become productive, help the environment and ourselves, and stay at the vanguard of technology. Lastly, I hope that we continue to train future leaders, so they go out into the world and continue the legacy we have started here at Yale.

Favorite Yale memory … so far.

Definitely meeting Handsome Dan as a puppy (laughs)! It doesn’t get better than that—he was so cute. I love dogs. I have a chocolate lab named Maddy (who made a brief appearance during this interview).

Favorite childhood memory?

I have wonderful memories of spending summer months in Northern Mexico with my great aunt and grandmother. We would swim in the local river or pick fruit from my grandmother’s backyard orchard. During the day, we’d take long walks through the desert landscape, admiring the surrounding mountain range. At night, we’d stargaze.

What are you reading, listening to, or watching?

I’m a beginner gardener. I’m reading many books about growing things from seed indoors or how to prepare a small garden in our backyard. I’m watching YouTube videos trying to figure out solutions to gardening problems as they come up. It’s been a great spring project. My husband and I are also watching the last season of “Better Call Saul” and waiting for the start of “House of Dragons” (the “Game of Thrones” prequel) in August!

Tell us a few fun facts about yourself.

I can write your name in hieroglyphs (smiles). I love to try out interesting recipes I find on social media and then put my own twist on them. My husband and I are huge horror movie fans, and we created a club. Each month we pick a film and watch it with others via Zoom. It’s a lot of fun.

By Lisa M. Maloney, Internal Communications, Office of Public Affairs & Communications