Meeting the Sustainability Challenge—on Earth and Beyond: Suzanne Ries ’21 BS SBE

Aug. 18, 2020
Suzanne Ries '21 BS SBE
Student Profile
Suzanne Ries

Seven Questions with Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Built Environments Student Suzanne Ries

Because the SBE program focuses on a wide variety of topics and issues, you can really make it into anything you want it to be. It’s a great place to start if you know that you want to make a positive change in our world.”


Suzanne Ries, who is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, entered CAPLA's BS in Sustainable Built Environments program (Sustainable Building Emphasis) after coming to the University of Arizona first as a Bachelor of Architecture student. Following a car accident that required an intense recovery process, she made the difficult decision to switch majors, igniting a passion for sustainable buildings and much more.

What brought you to the University of Arizona to study sustainable built environments?

I came to the University of Arizona for CAPLA specifically. I had heard such great things about the college and its programs. When I toured, I fell in love with the campus and the atmosphere. I wanted a rigorous program to immerse myself in and I knew that CAPLA was going to give me the perfect experience.

What do you like best about the SBE program and the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture?

I love the SBE program’s comprehensive approach to sustainability. Sustainability is a multifaceted subject and the program does an amazing job exposing students to all of these different topics and how they intersect. I feel prepared to analyze and solve the problems in our environment because I have a background in a variety of topics—including policy, ethics, health and wellness—and I understand how and why they are contributing factors to our current issues.

My favorite thing about CAPLA is the smaller size of the college. Over the past three years I have been able to create amazing relationships with my professors and peers. The size has allowed me to create an open-ended dialogue with many of my professors in and out of the classroom. I love that my professors want to get to know their students and allow me to focus on my interests in class so I can get as much as possible out of my courses.

Programing in Public Spaces, by Suzanne Ries

The Importance of Programing in Public Spaces: SBE coursework by Suzanne Ries.

What has been your biggest challenge at CAPLA, and how have you overcome that challenge?

I think that current COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest academic challenge I have faced. It was an abrupt transition that most of us were not prepared for. The hardest part about moving online was losing the in-person dialogue with my professors that I took for granted. Last semester, I was in a lot of classes where I was constantly getting feedback and asking questions to improve myself and my work, and that is a really difficult aspect to imitate in an online setting. It was a big change, but now that we have a better understanding of the situation and are starting to feel more comfortable, I am looking forward to this semester and taking the necessary steps to make it the best that it can be!

What has been your biggest challenge outside of CAPLA related to your life, and how did you overcome that challenge?

My biggest life challenge is ironically also related to CAPLA. My first semester of my freshman year I was the passenger in a rather serious car accident where I shattered my right hand. I had an intense recovery process that required multiple surgeries and extensive physical therapy over the course of about two years. At the time of my accident I was enrolled as a B.Arch student, but had to switch my course of study because I needed to focus on my recovery and regaining function in my dominant hand.

It was obviously pretty discouraging that I had to change my course due to something that was no fault of my own, but at the same time it ignited something in me and allowed me to learn so much about myself. Changing my major was a huge blessing in disguise. I cannot even explain how much I love the SBE program and I think falling in love with the program was exactly what I needed to be my best self.

I truly enjoyed what I was learning and was determined to not let my injury set me back. I had to work ten times as hard to keep up in my classes and achieve my goals, but now that I have overcome this challenge, I continue to keep that same level of determination and it has only helped me achieve more and more of my goals I set for myself.

Many thanks to advisors Sasha Wilson and Sean Kramer-Lazar for supporting and guiding me through this time.

St. Philip's Plaza diagram

St. Philip's Plaza mapping project: SBE coursework by Suzanne Ries.

What does the CAPLA experience mean for you?

To me, the CAPLA experience is finding a balance between challenging myself in core areas while still taking time to explore new topics and skillsets that I find interesting. The experience I have had is unique to me and my specific interests and I really enjoy that about the program.

What internship have you held, and what are your career aspirations?

I spent this summer working with the commercial spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, as their sustainability intern. While I never anticipated working in the space industry, I had an amazing time applying my sustainability knowledge to multiple projects I was assigned. My emphasis in building allowed me to feel confident completing a large project focused on the LEED certifications of the buildings they occupy, including Spaceport America. The Virgin Group takes great pride in their sustainability initiatives, and I was so honored to be a part of a corporation that cares so deeply about the pillars of sustainability and continues to change the world for good.

After I graduate in Spring 2021, I intend to enroll in a graduate program to obtain my Master of Architecture. I would love to combine this degree with my passion for sustainability to focus on green building. I have a lot of interest in the United States Green Building Council and the International WELL Building Institute, and I would love to get involved in similar organizations that are focused on creating healthy and sustainable spaces worldwide.

Suzannie Ries

What advice do you have for prospective SBE students?

Because the SBE program focuses on a wide variety of topics and issues, you can really make it into anything you want it to be. It’s a great place to start if you know that you want to make a positive change in our world and you are bound to find something you are interested in—whether it’s history, tech, design or science—because there is something for everyone. The faculty who make up this program are eager to teach you anything and everything you want to know!


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