Thinking Globally Comes Naturally
to Double Alumnus
By Becky Jensen (’93)
August Ritter (B.S. ’08, M.S. ’12) began forming a global perspective before he could walk or talk. He spent the first years of his life absorbing the sights and sounds of Africa while his parents were missionaries running a nutrition center in Zambia.
The family returned home to Denver in 1990, where Ritter grew up exploring Colorado’s many natural wonders. Ritter credits his mom for sparking his lifelong love affair with the outdoors.
When it was time to choose a college, he looked at in-state options to stay close to his three younger siblings. His dad had earned an undergraduate degree at CSU before going to law school at CU Boulder, so Ritter decided to check out his father’s two alma maters.
“The Buffs were not friendly and the Rams were very welcoming,” Ritter says matter-of-factly. Both were good schools, but the down-to-earth Ram community made Ritter’s final decision easy.
However, Ritter credits CU with producing one of the most incredible things in his life: his wife Perri Ritter. “If a Ram and a Buff can survive dating through college, our marriage can survive anything,” he jokes.
Ritter says his college years were picture-perfect. “It’s unbelievable how well everything went and how amazing my experience was at CSU.”
He was no academic slouch, either. Ritter earned a B.S. in human dimensions of natural resources with an emphasis in global tourism in 2008. He also minored in both business and Spanish, and studied abroad in 2007.
A pivotal moment for Ritter happened after taking the “Impact of Tourism” class with Stu Cottrell. The class inspired Ritter to develop original course content that addressed global environmental sustainability. Ritter presented his syllabus to Professor Mike Manfredo in the Warner College of Natural Resources. Manfredo paired Ritter with faculty Paul Layden to teach Ritter’s freshman-level sustainability class “The Human Footprint.” Ritter was a senior teaching 20 eager freshmen about how they could help protect the planet.
“You don’t get that kind of empowerment and opportunity very often. It made me realize this is a cause I could easily dedicate the rest of my life to.”
Coincidentally, and unknown to Ritter at the time, the university was preparing to launch an entire school dedicated to the very subject Ritter was ambitiously trying to cover in a one-credit elective class. In 2008, CSU established the School of Global Environmental Sustainability, an umbrella institution that focuses the education and research capabilities of eight colleges within CSU to address global issues including food security, poverty, inequality, water management, industrial ecology, sustainable engineering, and urbanization.
Ritter returned to CSU to earn his M.S. in Conservation Leadership in 2012. Josh Goldstein and Ryan Finchum are two faculty members Ritter credits with shepherding his cohort through their graduate program. “What I learned from them went far beyond academics,” says Ritter, who explains that Goldstein and Finchum also taught important lessons in collaboration and work-life balance. Under their guidance, Ritter studied environmental challenges in both Colorado and Chiapas, Mexico. He gained invaluable boots-on-the-ground experience doing field work with actual conservation partners, including non-government organizations (NGOs) like The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Ritter was impressed with the caliber of people that work for TNC. “They were like no other NGO I had come in contact with.”
A year after earning his graduate degree, Ritter was encouraged to apply for a position at TNC’s World Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. He’s been with the organization ever since.
TNC’s mission – to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends – really speaks to Ritter. And with a staff of 3,700 people in all 50 states and in 36 countries, Ritter feels TNC has the capacity to make a difference.
“One of the characteristics that makes TNC so unique is its humility as it takes on the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.” He goes on to explain, “TNC understands we can only make a substantial impact if we partner with others. Collaboration will be key if we are going to build a sustainable society.”
As the Director of Board Relations for TNC, Ritter walks that talk every day.
He facilitates the flow of communication and resources between 22 global board members and executive leadership, donors, staff, and conservation partners. He helps structure board meetings to support strategic direction. From his unique vantage point, he is acutely aware of how complicated running a global nonprofit can be.
When asked about working in the President’s Office for one of the most successful NGOs in the world, Ritter admits, “Often times, I have to pinch myself. This is an amazing opportunity to have at such a young age. I’m grateful to work on a daily basis with such phenomenal people.”
Ritter’s amazement is tempered by his confidence that he’s right where he’s supposed to be, thanks to CSU. “CSU gave me the skillset to do my job successfully. I can’t praise the Conservation Leadership graduate program enough. I didn’t totally grasp just how much CSU prepared me until I started with TNC.”
His career goal is simple. Ritter wants future generations to have a beautiful world in which to thrive. If he ends up being a TNC lifer, he has no problem with that. “I feel so connected to TNC. I can see myself being here for many more years to come.”
Ritter stays connected to CSU by attending D.C. Ram Network watch parties, and he tries to make it back for the Rocky Mountain Showdown every year. And his dad, former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (‘78), is the Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at CSU, “… which is pretty fun,” he says, trying to play down his pride.
What makes CSU so special to August Ritter?
“CSU cultivates an atmosphere of learning focused on how to make the world a better place,” he says. From the research that kicked off the Peace Corps to the Engines and Energy Conversion Lab, Ritter quickly rattles off a string of examples to make his case.
“Not a lot of schools have the global focus that CSU does. It rubs off on you, and it makes you start to think about things differently. It makes you think about your career differently. CSU graduates are thinking, ‘Where can I make the biggest impact?’ That’s what makes CSU such a special place.”