Katie Spoden ('14)

October 1, 2012

Why did you choose environmental studies as your major?

In high school, I spent time at Heifer International in Arkansas. The mission of the organization is to work within communities to end poverty and hunger while sustaining the environment. It was through this experience that I knew coming into CSB/SJU that I wanted to be an environmental studies major.

What has been your favorite environmental studies class?

Two of my favorite environmental studies classes have been God and Nature and Environmental Science II. God and Nature was fascinating because it presented an alternative perspective of theology and exposed me to eco-feminism. I enjoyed Environmental Science II because of the field work that was directly related to what we learned in class. We participated in prescribed burns when learning about prairie management and designed our own homes when discussing energy efficiency.

What is the best part about being an environmental studies major?

The environmental studies major offers a liberal arts degree within itself: the classes explore such different perspectives and elements.

What advice do you have for future students?

It is okay not to know what you want to do with the major! Through the environmental studies courses, you are bound to become passionate about a certain topic. My recommendation is to get involved by attending guest speakers' presentations, and career panel discussions. Through this, you will be able to better find your niche in the broad scope of environmental studies.

Did you participate in any Alternative Break Experiences?

I spent two of my past spring breaks, one as a participant and one as a co-leader, in San Lucas, Guatemala on an Alternative Break Experience through CSB Campus Ministries. We worked for a mission and were assigned tasks in the community including sorting coffee beans, working in the community garden, painting the local hospital, and building a basketball court for a local women's center. My experiences in a developing country was eye opening, especially from an environmental studies standpoint because of what I saw in terms of water pollution, poor agricultural conditions, and lack of infrastructure for waste disposal and recycling.

Where did you do your ENVR 397 Internship requirement?

I interned in Washington D.C. with Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank. I first applied to the Political Science Department Washington D.C. Summer Study Program. The program provided assistance with resumes, internship applications, and seminars on networking and how to be a successful intern. At Worldwatch, I worked with the Nourishing the Planet program. I wrote for a blog and other publications, doing research to create pieces that focused on international development and innovations in sustainable agriculture, with the end goal of influencing public policy. I worked over 40 hours a week for three months. Through this program I received 8 credits, four for my ENVR 397 Internship requirement, and four credits counting as upper-division political science credit.

What kinds of tasks were you assigned? What was your work like?

As part of the program, I had to write weekly journals, attend seminars, write a final paper and complete a written portfolio. The program was hugely beneficial to my success at my internship. At Worldwatch, I wrote several papers that will be published in Worldwatch's annual publication. The pieces are on the state of the world's aquaculture and fisheries, the effects of climate change on grain production, and the overall effects of climate change on agriculture. In addition, I developed talking points for my boss and publicized her attendance and thoughts on this last summer's United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20. I promoted Worldwatch's latest book, Eating Planet, through social media. I also published an op-ed piece about the role of school lunches in preventing childhood obesity. I experienced a very wide array of tasks and learned first-hand the business mindset of every organization in Washington, D.C.

All Enviornmental Studies majors conduct senior thesis research. What kind of research did you work on?

I researched on the topic of divestment from fossil fuesl in college endowments. I conducted a study of 32 colleges comparing public vs. private; ACUPCC (American College and University President's Climate Commitment) signatories and non-signatories; big, medium and small student bodies; and top 25 percent, median, and bottom 25 percent endowment size. 

I was researching to see if there are certain conditions that are more conductive for colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuels in their endowments.  With the aid of Sue Palmer, the CFO for St. Ben's, I was able to learn about the endowment investment process, and gaps that are present in other divestment campaigns. 

I wanted to present an alternative look at the movement; not from the typical perspective of a passionate student activist or a administrator who focuses solely on the economic disadvantages, but rather as a student who sees the barriers and seeks to find common ground between all concerned parties. 

What are your future plans and goals?

I plan on volunteering abroad after graduation, ideally it would be with an organization that focuses on gender and agriculture. After my volunteer experience, I would like to attend Bard Center for Environmental Policy to receive an MS in Climate Change Policy, with a focus on the intersection of climate change and agriculture. My dream career would be working for the Agricultural Foreign Service to promote international development through better agriculture practices.