I don’t remember the first time I fell in love with nature because I have always seen myself as part of it. I grew up in a family where everything was outside, whether that was family gatherings, work, or play. Nature has been the thing that has kept me stable my whole life even through times of turmoil. I grew up as a Girl Scout and went to camp every summer. My second grade talent show act was teaching the rest of my school about the bugs in their backyards. As a kid I told my mom I wanted to be a professional camp counselor when I grew up. In short, the outdoors has always been my passion.
I owe a lot of this love to my parents who are also both very connected to the natural world. My dad comes from a long line of famers. Our family farm was a place that I spent every weekend growing up. I would help out with fieldwork and play in the woods edging the property. My mom’s side of the family is from the mountains of North Carolina and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Holidays were always spent exploring these natural wonders. My mother is a professor of environmental science and biology at Penn State Lehigh Valley. I have a deep emotional connection to the environment.
To contrast this, my father has worked for Monsanto for the past thirty years and did his PhD dissertation working with the first strain of Round-Up Ready Corn. Interestingly enough he was the first person to ever spray Round-Up on a field trial. Monsanto and environmental stewardship are not typically topics that are tied together. I spent the summer after college graduation working on a research farm testing unregulated pesticides, fungicides, and insecticides. With my family’s background I have seen how difficult it is to stay on your feet in a career reliant on natural resources. I believe that having this perspective is something that sets me apart from a lot of other people perusing a career in environmental studies.
When I began college I naturally ended up in the College of Agriculture and began exploring the major of Community, Environment, and Development. I took classes based on land management, community development, and natural resource economics. I decided I wanted more of an applied field and switched to Agricultural Science with a specialization in Horticulture. Throughout my undergraduate career I worked at the greenhouses on campus and volunteered at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. I spent my summers working on various farms. I participated in multiple short-term study abroad trips with an environmental focus.
In the College of Agriculture and in the media I began to notice the extreme polarity in opinions surrounding agriculture, natural resources, and the environment. It bothered me how separated the subjects had become as I knew they were so interconnected. My junior year I enrolled in a study abroad experience in the Native American reservations of Minnesota. I noticed in their culture how these things could be viewed together in a holistic manner. I began to develop a strong interest in place-based knowledge. After returning back to Penn State for my senior year I found out about an immersive experience offered at Shaver’s Creek and spent my entire last semester taking classes at the center. This further developed my interest in place based knowledge and experiential education.
By enrolling in Penn State’s M.S. program in Agriculture and Extension Education I hope to further explore these interests and research an area that could help me to start building a bridge across the gap of knowledge surrounding the environment and how humans utilize it. My short-term career goals include working with Shaver’s Creek to evaluate some of their current programs to help provide feedback on areas they could improve. On a personal level my short-term career goals include enhancing my knowledge base surrounding the understanding of how humans interact with the environment and where local and indigenous knowledge fit into this. I am also becoming increasingly curious about the role that culture plays into the spectrum of this field. I would like to increase my knowledge on program development, experiential education, and evaluation in the process.
My long-term career goals are a little fuzzier as I have many broad interests and an open mind as to what comes after graduate school. I have been a student my whole life and am really looking forward to some on the ground field experience after my I earn my masters degree. On the same note some of my biggest role models, including my own mother, have been professors and work in academia. I could see myself being a professor and leading immersive classes based on experiential education and human interaction with the environment for college aged students.
Alongside of my master’s classes I am in training to become a yoga instructor and hope that this is something I can incorporate into my life along side my career. My even longer-term dream is to grow the majority of my food before the time that I die and start some side-business or work on my family farm. Overall, I just hope to connect people with the world around them and with each other. I know that it is not possible for us to move forth as a population in a world facing complex issues such as climate change without environmentalists, farmers, scientists, teachers, and average citizens working together and drawing from their own special perspectives and knowledge.