Peter Toth (2013, BA, History) joins us for Nonprofit Week. Peter serves as an Innovation Consultant at Foresight Design Initiative. Read on to learn about his current role and career path.
Peter’s interest in sustainability-related nonprofit work drew him to the Chicago-based Foresight Design Initiative.
Describe your role with Foresight Design Initiative. What drew you to the organization and how long have you worked in your role?
My time at Foresight began with an internship in the fall of 2011, during my junior year at Northwestern. I had long been interested in doing sustainability-related nonprofit work, and I was drawn to the organization’s multidisciplinary, system-level approach. During my internship, I coordinated the efforts of various coalitions of local organizations, working on issues ranging from environmental education to innovative business models. Apart from the content, I was drawn to the creative, team-based atmosphere and the high work standards to which I was held.
I returned as a full-time staff member in February 2014. Since then, I have worked on a variety of grant-funded projects focused on sustainability in Chicago. My role has involved primary and secondary research, creating diagrams and other visual tools, and event design. For my main project, I have developed innovative strategies to help Illinois consumers take advantage of energy management technologies and programs. I have contributed in a variety of capacities to other projects, including a systems analysis of regional water and energy efficiency efforts.
What is your work and education background?
I majored in History and minored in Chemistry at Northwestern. While in college, in addition to my time at Foresight, I interned for about four months at the Center for Neighborhood Technology, another sustainability-focused nonprofit in Chicago.
Describe a typical workday.
One of the aspects that I like most about Foresight is that there is no really typical workday. As with all jobs, a fair amount of time is spent crafting emails, making phone calls, and participating in staff meetings. Sometimes I might spend a couple of days in a row doing research and translating my findings into a diagram. Other weeks may be filled with primary research interviews or events. Because we have a very flexible approach, no two phases of a project, let alone the projects themselves, look entirely the same.
What does an entry level role look like and entail?
Because we currently have only four staff members, Foresight has a relatively flat hierarchy, and we tend to be flexible with project assignments. Although I am the least-experienced member, I have been the lead on my main project for almost my entire time at Foresight. I’m responsible for some everyday administrative tasks, such as bookkeeping, but for the most part I have a high level of responsibility and input on project work.
What’s the best thing about working at Foresight?
I love working at Foresight because we do meaningful work, and we do it in creative and innovative ways. I relish the opportunity to think about complex problems and contribute to strategies for dealing with them. Most importantly, my colleagues are among the most intelligent, creative, and hardworking people I’ve met, and it’s an absolute pleasure working with them.
What professional advice do you have for job-seeking graduating students interested in this field? For students who are early in their college careers?
The most valuable insight I’ve gained about sustainability is that it isn’t really a field or sector. Rather, it’s a multidisciplinary approach to dealing with complex challenges. For this reason, there isn’t just one key discipline or skill that will make you a better sustainability professional. You can come to sustainability through biology, communications, engineering, statistics, design, or any other field. That said, learning to work effectively in a real-world setting is a skill unto itself, and requires time and practice. Get as much experience as possible through internships, and use these opportunities to determine what type of job you’d most enjoy.
What does your work space look like?
What gadget, office tool or program can’t you live without?
Two come immediately to mind. Evernote is essentially an application for taking and sharing notes that is accessible both online and offline. While that may sound quite mundane, it’s a far superior alternative to endless folders of Word documents and the clutter of Google Drive. OmniGraffle, meanwhile, is perfect for creating diagrams and flow charts, which we use frequently at Foresight.
What’s the best career or life advice you’ve received?
When I was an intern, Peter, our Executive Director, told me that developing good judgment is as important than learning skills, if not more so. Judgment is the reserve of knowledge that can be drawn upon in unexpected or unpredictable situations, and comes mainly from experience. It’s been the most valuable resource that I’ve gained thus far in my still-young professional career.
Explore the work that Foresight Design Initiative is doing and check out the internship opportunities!
Are you interested in learning about nonprofit organizations that are similar to Peter’s work at Foresight Design Initiative? Be sure to explore the following organizations.
- Net Impact
- Mission Measurement