Jill Knoll of Dunwoody, Ga., a master's student in the Executive Master of Natural Resources program offered by the College of Natural Resources and Environment, is a team manager for The Coca-Cola Company’s Industry and Consumer Affairs Department in Atlanta. One weekend a month, she commutes to Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region campus for the master's program. 

The program, which falls under the newly approved Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability, meshes well with Knoll’s job, she says.

The 24 students in the program’s cohort meet one weekend a month at the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington and work on off-campus projects the rest of the time. The program includes a 10-day international residency in which students network with global partners to develop multi-scale strategies for global sustainability. Knoll’s student cohort will travel to China in March, where they will explore sustainable development throughout the Mekong and Yangtze River basins.

Knoll says that this trip is especially relevant for her as she builds a future at Coca-Cola, where conserving and managing water resources is viewed not only as a strategic business imperative, but as a vital responsibility around the world. In a global partnership, Coca-Cola and World Wildlife Fund have been working collaboratively to conserve seven freshwater river basins around the world, including the Mekong River.

“My plan is to contribute to this important effort in the Mekong watershed by conducting a field study project that identifies some of the existing gaps and explores what opportunities we can seize to move forward,” she remarked.

Knoll, who has been with Coca-Cola since 1997, has long wanted to develop her passion for the environment in an advanced degree program, but couldn’t quite work it in between her job and family commitments.

Then she began working on an assignment to support Coca-Cola’s 2020 Vision, an initiative that enhanced and expanded the company’s commitment to the environment and sustainability by creating long-term goals for its business and providing a “road map” for success in conjunction with its bottling partners.

She was asked to manage a long-term agricultural commodities and products project in the Global Sustainable Procurement Department. “We’re analyzing our top agricultural commodities and ingredients for continuity of supply, risks, and opportunities to meet our 2020 Vision,” she said.

“Sustainable agriculture plays a key role in shaping our future. The Coca-Cola Company has contributed to 27 sustainable agriculture initiatives in 22 countries. We invest in improving the communities we serve because it is the right thing to do,” she added. “Finding the right balance is important, and providing small holder farmers with jobs is significant.”

Knoll says that Coca-Cola’s commitment to management practices and sustainability — which includes water, packaging, energy, health and wellbeing, and agriculture — is a perfect match for her personal passion for agriculture and commitment to the environment.

Last January, Knoll renewed her educational dreams by enrolling in the 18-month Executive Master of Natural Resources program. “I researched top natural resource programs and found Virginia Tech,” she said. “After much consideration and consultation with Program Director David Robertson, I committed to the program. Coca-Cola has been totally supportive of my commitment to this program, and I fully expect earning this degree from Virginia Tech will impact positively on my future career here.”

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