Jeff Mittelstadt ’99 becomes the college’s first director of sustainability
By Danielle Strickland
When Jeff Mittelstadt ’99 arrived as a freshman at Davidson College—moving “down South” from a Detroit suburb—he says he felt at home for the first time in his life. People opened up their homes and their lives to him. He felt like a part of a deeply-rooted family, not just a student at a school.
So when the opportunity arose for Mittelstadt to become Davidson’s first director of sustainability, he jumped at the chance, leaving his most recent home in Boston to return to his home in the South. This decision also re-introduced Mittelstadt and his wife, Natalie, to the world of long-distance marriage, but with each having a deep love for their work and a belief in improving the world around them—she’s a pediatric resident at Boston Children’s Hospital—it’s an arrangement that’s serving them well.
“This is the perfect job for me,” he said. “It’s the right place and the right work. I don’t ever want to be comfortable or complacent, and I know new students coming to campus each year will challenge me to stay on top of things and to be better myself. I don’t ever want to be a victim of cultural lock-in.”
Mittelstadt, who holds a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke and an M.B.A. and master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from UNC Chapel Hill, has ambitious plans for sustainability at Davidson, starting with identity creation. What does sustainability really mean, and why does it matter to Davidson?
“People always think of the environmental stuff,” he said. “But it’s about social equity, environmental integrity, and economic prosperity. It’s about how they drive each other, and it’s about learning to live as one with the world.”
Since his start date of November 14—also his birthday—he’s been spending a lot of time with the people on campus, listening, learning, and figuring out the best way to move forward.
“I’m meeting with students with all different interests. Students in the Food Club. Students passionate about social justice. Students who care about financial investments. They are all touched or helped by sustainability, and it’s about understanding the breadth of opportunity for us all to be involved.”
Mittelstadt’s non-Davidson world is entrenched in sustainability-related topics as well. He is the founder and president of a non-profit organization, Wildsides, which concentrates on human-wildlife conflict documentary and educational media. His most recent piece about whales will be screened at multiple 2013 Wildlife Conservation Film Festivals in Miami, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Outside of running his non-profit organization, Mittelstadt’s previous work experience prepared him perfectly for overseeing the future of sustainability at Davidson College. For two years, he served as the vice president for sustainable manufacturing at the National Council for Advanced Manufacturing. Prior roles include sustainability management for Bank of America, program evaluation for the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General, and sustainability consulting in Chapel Hill.
Throughout his career, Mittelstadt has encouraged others to challenge his ideas, and he enjoys the challenges others bring to him. This approach is no different at Davidson. In fact, he wants even more of it.
“Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is to never take an answer as the answer,” he said. “Everything has opportunity. I want this campus and this community to question what I say and do. It will make my experience more enjoyable, and it will grow what’s possible here.”
Photo Credit: Bill Giduz