College is the time to connect with faculty, work towards change

April 03, 2014

Written By: Ann Steeves, 2014: Health Management and Policy: Public Health, EcoGastronomy Dual Major Student Ambassador to the Sustainability Institute’s Food Systems Task Force

The first class of the UNH Sustainability Institute's Student Ambassadors with Dr. Tom Kelly

Welcome to the University of New Hampshire, a beautiful institution on the coast of a historic state, one hour from the city of Boston, and two hours from the wonderful White Mountains. At UNH, you can explore your passions, meet interesting people, become involved in research, and most importantly, join a community of virtuous humans. I’ve had the privilege of becoming very involved with what our institution has to offer over the past four years and I am truly proud to say that “#IbelieveinUNH”.

It’s been my pleasure to watch this bandwagon of school spirit gain momentum over the past four years. We sure have a lot to be proud of! I think what I like most about UNH is the honest passion so many individuals hold for whatever it may be they are interested in. We have a spirited community of determined individuals who are enthusiastic about changing the world! I am mostly referring to our ambitious student activist community, but the passion goes beyond that. Weather it is Hepcats Ballroom Dancing club, or the UNH Woodsmen Team, the individuals I meet in UNH organizations beam with contentment from their respective passions. Witnessing another person’s passions may not convert you to become as ardent as they are, but it will remind you what life is about. Or, at least it does for me. When I meet someone who is enthralled with their life— whether it’s their academics, student orgs, or work—it reminds me what life is about. I’ve been learning recently about the concept of an “authentic self”—a term to describe figuring out who you are and owning your own personal uniqueness. We have been told to “find our passion” through many venues growing up, but I say this should change to “let your passion find you”. We are fortunate to be in a community of impassioned young people, just get involved with something and you may make a connection to something else. We truly have the potential to change the world! I’ll admit that college has not been all butterflies and rainbows, but as a senior counting down the 40-something days to commencement, I am going to miss this place. So, as the wise old senior undergraduate that I am, I am encouraging everyone to become involved in our greater campus community! Don’t be intimidated by anything or anyone. Our culture loves to tell people to relax and give things time, but NOW IS THE TIME! By the time you wait for the time to be right, the time will be GONE!

I now want to focus on the sustainability efforts on our campus. I am disappointed by the lack of student awareness of some of our campus efforts regarding sustainability. I arrived at UNH knowing I would be in the EcoGastronomy dual-major, but I was not sure what else I would find. This past year, I have had the opportunity to be directly involved with the Sustainability Institute through the Student Ambassador program. This program gives four students the chance to have a seat on institutional task forces related to sustainability in the focus areas of culture, climate, biodiversity, and food. These four themes are the pillars of sustainability on campus. I’m proud to be part of an institutional effort to not only recognize such critical issues, but to include and acknowledge perspectives from different stakeholders in our community. The student voice is critical, and strangely enough, is regularly ignored by many institutions.

Becoming an engaged student member of this community was a little intimidating for me. One of the required texts in the Intro to EcoGastronomy course is The Sustainable Learning Community, by Dr. John Aber, Dr. Tom Kelly, and Dr. Bruce Mallory. As a bright-eyed freshman, I was shocked to be reading a published book about the very institution I was attending! And to think that these authors wrote all this about my school?! We discussed the text in my EcoGastronomy course a bit and talked about the implications a public land-grant institution having an endowed institute focused on sustainability. It’s incredible! Similar institutions now exist across the country, but when the Sustainability Institute was founded in 1994, it was extremely unique. Learning of this prominence brought great pride to me and my peers in EcoG. We realized that we were attending a special institution at a noteworthy time of significant cultural shifts to create a more sustainable future. It was intimidating to even think of getting involved! I distinctively remember eating ice cream at the Dairy Bar in the spring of freshman year with two other young women in my EcoGastronomy course. We had been assigned to meet outside of class for a discussion, and chose to do so at the Dairy Bar. I remember sitting outside as a tall figure walked by us… that was Tom Kelly!!! Us freshmen EcoGers were giddy for spotting him! It made our whole day.

My extracurricular college career continued to intersect with Tom’s work. Sophomore year, I became very involved with the Real Food Challenge (RFC) campaign, a national network of college students advocating for “real” food at their institutional dining operations. Turns out Dr. Tom Kelly sits on RFC’s Advisory Committee among esteemed food heros including Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva, and Anna Lappé. This guy meant business! My respect for Tom only continued to grow.

I knew that Tom was a busy man, but was still naïve enough to think it wouldn’t be too hard to schedule a meeting with him. This proved to be difficult. Long story short, I finally set up a personal meeting with him this past summer to talk about sustainability efforts related to food and the Real Food Challenge campaign. My good friend and fellow organizer, Acacia Kreidermacher, intended on coming to the meeting, but dropped out at the last minute. She admits now that, “I bailed out of that meeting because I was intimidated by him.” I could not cancel this meeting, so I suppressed my anxiety and went into it alone. Tom and I ended up having a lovely stimulating conversation that day. It was then that I realized something very important: people at universities love students. Tom has dedicated his life to working toward institutional sustainability, he wants the students he is working for to respect his work and become involved! I expressed this misconception to Tom, as I wanted him to understand the false notion many students may hold. Tom shared some advice with us what he likes to call, “The Prime Directive”—to take your work seriously but never take yourself seriously. He explained that he shares this sentiment with this coworkers and him and his peers keep each other in check. I think I will live by this sentiment, and share it with others. Since the summer, I have had the pleasure of meeting with Tom in a variety of other settings, and I only have good things to say about his nature. It’s interesting to me how students may be intimidated to make the first move to connect with our campus’s prestigious faculty and staff members. We are at this University to become educated! We must take proactive steps to make the most of our privilege to be educated.

Tom recently joined the Sustainability Institute’s Student Ambassadors for a meeting, where we got to learn even more about him. He shared a lot about his past, and the path of this career that brought him to where he is today. We learned that he studied music in undergrad at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. As an open book, Tom explained his career path to us. After graduating Berklee, Tom worked as an auditor at Tanglewood, where Leonard Bernstein, the famous conductor who wrote the music for West Side Story was there. Working with such an esteemed musician, Tom was shocked at the disrespect between politics and egos at Tanglewood which were clouding Bernstein’s talent. He came to terms with the reality that even if he was incredibly lucky, just maybe would he be able to pursue music as a career. After flirting in the wine industry, Tom grew interested in foreign affairs. He got married, started his family and wound up at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University where he earned his Masters and Doctoral Degrees. Tom spent time living in Mexico City before doing work on the US-Mexican border, where he grew interested in a watershed issue. His thesis on this topic was called, “Sewage Diplomacy: The Political Geography of Cross-border Sewage Flows at San Diego – Tijuana”. Dr. Kelly was fascinated how such a straightforward issue could be so complicated from constructed barriers between political institutions. When I asked if he thought about entering Foreign Service after his time at the Fletcher School, he responded, “I was (thinking about it), but was overwhelmed with US foreign policy. Emotionally at the time, I felt like it would be too constraining.”

I’m sure many of us soon-to-be college graduates can relate to this sentiment. We want to change our world for the better, but feel overwhelmed by today’s realities. Nearing the end of our conversation, I asked Tom about something I think about each day: how does one keep spirits high when faced with so much going against us in the world? There’s no denying the state of the world is overwhelming. Tom responded, “I am still idealistic, and you have got to hold on to it.” Jackie Cullen, the Sustainability Institute’s Program Support Assistant added, “You can’t have your position and not be.” This is one of the biggest take-aways from my experience at here at UNH. We must soak up our time here and spread the optimism we have collected from such distinguished people working toward positive change! If we don’t stay positive and work for a better future, who will?

Join the Sustainability Institute’s Student Ambassadors, Dr. Tom Kelly, and other members of our Sustainable Learning Community for the Inaugural UNH Sustainability Summit, held Tomorrow, Friday, April 4th in MUB Theatre II from 12pm-2pm.

Inaugural UNH Sustainability Summit April 4th

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