The Reluctant Environmentalist
Green Tip of the Week 3/17/2010: Take the Path Less Traveled
Fairfield graduate Alexandra Gross '09, once Editor-in-Chief of the Mirror and s now a writer for E – The Environmental Magazine, has advice for students looking for environmental internships:
Try to find something environmental that you're passionate about, not necessarily specific to your major.
Look locally for work. Getting an internship with a major company is not always in your best interests.
Don't be afraid to branch out of your comfort zone and try something new.
Go to a lot of town events that are publicized on the Fairfield Campus, in and around town. Access the farmers' markets on the weekends. Walk around to local businesses nearby. You can meet interesting people, and there are often job prospects.
Read the whole interview with Alexandra Gross on "The Reluctant Environmentalist." http://blog.fairfield.edu/redtogreen/
Interview with Alexandra Gross on March 2, 2010:
Q: How have Fairfield University students changed their position toward environmentalism, in the last few years?
Alex: The biggest change I've seen, from the time I was a freshman until now, is that there is way more activism and outreach today. There's a high success rate of students being active and following through in the environmentalism on campus. That's really encouraging. When I was there, only a handful of kids seemed to care. Now there's a ton of students involved. That's amazing. That's putting Fairfield in the right direction.
Q: What do you think has caused that?
Alex: Maybe it's the whole Green Movement becoming more relevant or prevalent in daily life. Or maybe it's cyclical, as when the 1960s and 70s saw various movements, and this is just our time. I have the good fortune of having my younger brother go to Fairfield, so I learn through him what's going on. He says there are kids coming from different high schools who are interested in the environment. They've had these interests in the past, and at Fairfield they want to practice what they preach.
Q: Do you think high schools are teaching more environmentalism?
Alex: It's one of those things where you can't go anywhere without hearing the word Green. It can't really be ignored, whether you choose to believe in some of the causes or not. I was fortunate to get my foot in the right door with the right professors, who encouraged me to do what I could and get the word out through journalism, to spark interest in the environmental movement on campus. There are lots of different forums for students to have their voices heard.
Q: Would you suggest that students seek out certain professors?
Alex: Yes. The biggest thing for me personally . . . I was discouraged by how apathetic the student body was in my first two years at Fairfield. I was seriously considering transferring. Then a few of my professors whom I was close to led me to Dina Franceschi. She encouraged me to go with my journalistic gut and follow my student activism inclinations, and that kept me at Fairfield. With her support, I shifted my focuses to making a difference on campus. Dr. Franceschi told me about the "Program on the Environment" minor – I think it was "Environmental Studies" when I enrolled. By getting involved in that minor program, you meet a lot of cool professors.
When I was at Fairfield . . . not that the environmental groups on campus weren't active, but it seemed like there was a lot of disconnect. They were doing some activities, and maybe there wasn't enough publicity, but I didn't really even know about the Student Environmental Association until my sophomore year, when they were just getting their feet off the ground. So I don't know what happened, but environmentalism on campus has bloomed since then.
Q: Now the Student Environmental Association and the Green Campus Initiative are working together.
Alex: Yeah. For me at Fairfield it was difficult, because I wanted to report on the environmental movement on campus, but I wasn't allowed to be a member of those groups. That was a part of the Mirror ethics code. I was on the outside looking in. I was doing a lot of stuff on my own, and I tried to participate when I could, but I had to bite my tongue and just watch them go for it.
That was because it would be a conflict of interests for me to be an officer or member of a club, and also to report on it. I could write a lot of commentary. I felt like there was more authority on my side if I talked about the different initiatives by the campus groups, and faculty members, from an outside, objective perspective.
Q: So you did journalism on the one hand, and talked with faculty and students on the other hand?
Alex: Yeah. I was invited to go to the Sustainability Committee meeting. I was there as a press member. I wanted to make sure that I met all the right people, and that I knew who to contact for articles. I was active in the movement, but from a journalistic aspect.
Q: You've done so much environmental writing. How much time do you spend these days writing about the environment?
Alex: I work now for E -The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). That was the internship I had my second semester senior year, and then they offered me a job. I continue writing for them. Since it's a bi-monthly publication, I'm always working on a piece. Right now, I'm working on two pieces. It's not a regular 9 to 5 job, but I have occasional interviews, and I'm doing research pretty much every day. Then there's my blog http://speakwithyourfood.blogspot.com. That's my space to editorialize and offer research for people who are interested in food and the local environmental movement. I try to post every day on that.
Q: That's amazing.
Alex: It's something I'm really passionate about. As a freelance writer, I have more time to post.
Q: For those students active in the environmental movement, who want to transition to an environmental field after they graduate, what would you recommend?
Alex: Dr. Simon always taught us to "take the road less traveled." He meant that in terms of trying to find a perspective when you write. But it's also a good piece of advice for a job search.
When I graduated, it was the worst job market a Fairfield class has ever seen. I expected not to have a job, so I had a back-up job working as a farm intern. So the biggest piece of advice I have is this: Try to find something you're passionate about, not necessarily specific to your major.
Look locally for work. I know some people want to have an internship or something with a major company, or move into the city right away—yet sometimes that's not always in your best interests. Because I work for E - The Environmental Magazine, my articles have gotten picked up by big environmental websites, and I've been cited in a lot of research papers, and I've met a lot of good people. Meanwhile, I love my job at the farm. So I'm able to do two things at once. I didn't go to school for farming, obviously, but I wasn't afraid to branch out of my comfort zone and try something new.
Q: It sounds like farming feeds your writing. It's a kind of synergy.
Alex: Oh, yes, definitely. I can't imagine doing one without the other. Initially I didn't think those two were ever going to be related. But I've found a balance of how to farm and learn about the local food movement, as well as finding out what's right to editorialize and report on – organic food, and food movements that environmentalists use.
Q: How would you recommend that students start looking locally for environmental work opportunities they really care about?
Alex: The biggest thing is, do a lot of cold-calling. Not in the traditional sense that you just call people up, but . . . go to a lot of town events they are always publicizing on the Fairfield Campus, in and around town. It's good to access the farmers' markets on the weekends. Go there and walk around to local businesses near the farmers' markets. You can meet a lot of interesting people, and there are often job prospects.
Q: That's a great idea. What particular places?
Alex: Right at the Fairfield Theatre Company (70 Sanford Street, Fairfield) there's a farmers' market http://www.farmfresh.org/food/farmersmarkets_details.php?market=394 on Saturdays, I believe – well, right now it's the indoor farmers market – from 10 to 2. I think in the summer it switches over to Sunday, in that same location. If students are interested in finding farmers' markets in Fairfield County, they can go to www.buyctgrown.com and search for farmers markets. And they can consult the Fairfield Green Food Guide: http://fairfieldgreenfoodguide.com
Also, http://www.localharvests.org is a great site for students specifically interested in local food and local economy movements. Contacting non-profit groups in Connecticut, going to activity fairs, just checking local websites or local newspapers, seeing when certain events are – all these are good places to look.
Q: That's so much good specific advice. What about long-term jobs or graduate schools?
Alex: There are tons of grad schools now with different programs. Environmentalism is a broad term. You can get your Master's or Ph.D in Sustainable Development. I'm looking at grad schools right now for Food Systems and Food Studies, which is very specific, but it covers a broad range of topics. At most leading universities, you'll find some field related to environmentalism.
Q: I find that very heartening.
Alex: It's one of these things where, regardless of your political ideals, it's kind of bigger than us.
Q: I really appreciate your giving so much good advice to students, because I know that many of them don't know where to start. You've started, and you've continued, and you've gotten a long way. You're saying it's a kind of free-form search. Try everything, and see who you meet.
Alex. Yeah. I think as a generation, we're used to . . . I guess there's a term, "helicopter parents," or parents who watch over us and do everything for us. We have to shift away from that mentality and branch out and do things that are unexpected. Don't take the traditional route, I'd say. You'll find the most success that way.
Q: There are other ways to learn besides a teacher.
Alex: Oh, yeah. And especially a lot of schools, and even schools like Fairfield, depend on Career Planning and their advisors to find them internships. Those are great resources, but they can't be the end-all.
If anyone wants to contact me, in case I might be a resource, they can contact me.
Q: Really? Can I give them your email address? email@example.com
Alex: Oh, yeah!
Q: That's great. I will be glad to do that. I think you are the pioneer of the student movement. You got there a year or two before anybody else. You knew what was out there for students. I think people will remember you for that.
Alex: Well, thanks.