Born and raised in Madrid, Spain, Irene Sánchez-Andrea never expected to return to her roots. After spending time living and working in Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, Irene was ready for the next step in her career. This brought her back to IE University, a school as diverse as her background, to teach something she’s passionate about: sustainability.

As part of her passion for sustainability, Irene Sánchez-Andrea is a self-declared technologist and a  microbiologist by trade. She started her academic path by studying environmental sciences at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), went on to pursue a master’s in renewable energies, and finally earned her PhD. She has dedicated her academic and professional journeys to understanding the ecosystems of microorganisms. 

Irene’s fascination with microorganisms started during her bachelor’s degree. Her cohort went on a field trip to the Tinto River in Spain, which ended up being the topic of her PhD thesis and her research career. Her love for nature influenced her decision to study environmental sciences, specifically due to the consequences anthropogenic effects were having on the environment. She decided it was time to fight back, and has continued to do so ever since. 

Teaching her students to fight for nature

As part of her fight for nature, Irene began teaching in the Bachelor in Environmental Sciences for Sustainability at IE University. According to Irene, “Microbes are everywhere, meaning they create a lot of impact. They drive the geochemical cycles of different elements, like nitrogen and carbon.” These microbes can be used to clean polluted environments or produce biofuel cells, making them incredibly important for biotechnological applications. With that in mind, Irene teaches students to look at microbes from a holistic point of view, offering them a well-rounded understanding of societal and environmental aspects.

Striving to make teaching hands-on, Irene takes an interactive approach, arguing that simply explaining concepts to students and having them take notes is outdated—and only gives them knowledge that they could just find out for themselves on the internet. “ I think our role is to make them experience the knowledge and connect the very different aspects of these complex social problems. I want them to integrate economy, societal aspects, law, environmental programs and more.”

Putting theory into practice outside the classroom

IE University follows a sustainable approach to learning and Irene implements the same values into her lessons. “The role of the environmental scientist is to protect the environment from people and people from environmental hazards. Our professionals need the skills and the ability to thrive in these green jobs, ensuring that they can work in other roles as well.”

Irene follows a sustainable approach for education, but she also leads a sustainable approach in her own life. Throughout the program, she works to instill the critical-thinking skills necessary for students to transfer what they are learning inside the classroom to their everyday lives. Students will also apply their learnings to real-world challenges, from water-based problems to finding solutions for pollution. 

Discover more about Irene’s passion projects and the Bachelor in Environmental Sciences for Sustainability in this video.