Jill Knoll of Dunwoody, Ga., a team manager for The Coca-Cola Company’s Industry and Consumer Affairs Department in Atlanta, commutes one weekend a month to the college’s Executive Master of Natural Resources program at the National Capital Region campus in Arlington, Va. The program, based in the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability, meshes well with Knoll’s job.

For the program’s 10-day international residency, Knoll’s student cohort will explore sustainable development throughout China’s Mekong and Yangtze river basins. Knoll says that the trip is especially relevant as she builds a future at Coca-Cola, where conserving and managing water resources is viewed not only as a strategic business imperative but as a vital responsibility around the world.

In a global partnership, Coca-Cola and World Wildlife Fund have been working collaboratively to conserve seven freshwater river basins around the world, including the Mekong River. “My plan is to contribute to this important effort in the Mekong watershed by conducting a field study project that identifies some of the existing gaps and explores what opportunities we can seize to move forward,” she remarked.

Knoll has long wanted to develop her passion for the environment in an advanced degree program, but couldn’t

quite work it in between her job and family commitments. In 2007, she enrolled in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. “But eventually,” Knoll said, “trying to balance work and family along with the long drive to classes in Athens became just too much of a challenge. I decided to put school on hold while I focused on a new social media initiative at Coca-Cola.”

Then she began working on an assignment to support Coca-Cola’s 2020 Vision, an initiative that enhanced and expanded the company’s commitment to the environment and sustainability by creating long-term goals for its business and providing a road map for success. She manages a long-term agricultural commodities and products project in which “we’re analyzing our top agricultural commodities and ingredients for continuity of supply, risks, and opportunities to meet our 2020 Vision,” she said.

“Sustainable agriculture plays a key role in shaping our future. Coca-Cola has contributed to 27 sustainable agriculture initiatives in 22 countries,” she added. “We invest in improving the communities we serve because it is the right thing to do. Finding the right balance is important, and providing small holder farmers with jobs is significant.”

Knoll says that Coca-Cola’s commitment to management practices and sustainability — which includes water, packaging, energy, health, and agriculture — is a perfect match for her personal passion for agriculture and commitment to the environment.

In January 2012, Knoll renewed her educational dreams by enrolling in the 18-month Executive Master of Natural Resources program. “I researched top natural resource programs and found Virginia Tech,” she said. “After much consideration and consultation, I committed to the program. Coca-Cola has been totally supportive of my commitment to this program, and I fully expect earning this degree from Virginia Tech will impact positively on my future career here.”