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Peter Schmitt

May 23, 2016
Photo of Peter Schmitt
Peter Schmitt

Undergraduate graduation year: 2011

What did you like best about your experience in the German, Scandinavian & Dutch (GSD) department?

The most unique part of my experience as a part of the GSD department at the U came as part of the University Research Opportunity Program (UROP). As a senior, I had the opportunity to work with Charlotte Melin on a project to create a cross-functional program tying environmental science and sustainability to the traditional German curriculum. I spent the semester creating modules based on different parts of curricula that I had been through as part of my second undergraduate degree (environmental science, policy, and management). These modules were then further developed to create a full graduate course in the years following my work, as well as being used to help professors of other languages incorporate new topics into their curricula.

I was impressed with the foresight of the U GSD department to engage with other parts of the University to create dynamic, cross-functional programming. As a student who was not planning on going into education or pursuing a German PhD, I had been looking for courses that connected my interest in the German language and culture with my wider interests (in this case, the environment). By leveraging the offerings of such a large university, I could bring my interests together, while also helping future students have an even better experience with the department.

What advice would you have for undergraduate students of GSD? Graduates?

Don’t feel like you have to go into education! This is, obviously, reflected above, but German can take you so many places beyond academia. Since finishing my undergraduate degrees, I have gone on to live in Austria as an English teacher, but I also worked at a public utility in a small town in the Alps, as well as started my own business in compost and also work in energy consulting. All of these varying professional experiences have tied to my German experience.

German is more than simply learning a language (a language that also isn’t always so simple)! Learning any language allows you to approach problems differently than others, build a broader personal and professional network, and develop a cultural understanding that will help you stand out in any job function. When I started at the University of Minnesota, I felt somewhat trapped because nobody was pointing me in any direction other than academia.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t go that route, but it simply wasn’t the route that made most sense for me. I want to make sure that others know that there are other routes with language that you should keep in mind.

Where did you study abroad? How did it enhance your opportunities post-graduation?

I spent my sophomore year in Freiburg, Germany. This was my original connection to environmental science and my original foray into a different culture. Those 11 months shaped my future academic and professional endeavors. I am still of the firm opinion that everyone should study abroad at some point, even if it is just for a short time.

My time abroad also convinced me to apply for the Fulbright program in Austria post-graduation, which led me to living in Austria for two years and ultimately going back to work there as a graduate intern once I began my two graduate degrees in public policy and business administration.

How do you find balance between life as a graduate student and also as an entrepreneur?

Though the amount of work that I have taken on outside of my studies is challenging (as an entrepreneur, teaching assistant, and now as a consultant, as well), it is also preparing me for the inevitable juggling that we all have to do in our everyday lives. Everyone is busy—whether it is with sports, school, relationships, or work, everyone is juggling things all the time. I pride myself on my ability to manage my time well (maybe that comes from a developed German efficiency), and it certainly keeps my days interesting.

I do, however, try to build routine into my day whenever possible. Right now, I have morning classes; I use my lunch break to go check on my compost pile and work with the business; I have more classes in the afternoon; I sit in on a class that I am an assistant for after that, and then I go home and work on positioning my business for future growth. On days that I don’t have class, I go in and work at a consulting firm downtown. Additionally, my wife and I bought a triplex and manage any problems that come up with that (the house is from 1893) and are also fixing it up as we go.

What books or blogs are you currently reading? Recommendations?

I try to end my day with something that is entirely un-academic and non-work related. It allows my mind to unwind and take in something different. I have gone through phases of reading old Calvin and Hobbes books, but I have also gone through the Game of Thrones series. I tend to stick with fiction because it allows my imagination to run wild a bit.

Video: Peter talks about his Living Laboratory project working with urban-based composting.