Joe Fairbanks '17 has a lot of passions, from biking and canoeing to sustainability and storytelling. At Dartmouth, Joe has been able to weave his passions together and allow them to build off each other. This month, Joe took some time out of his busy senior schedule to tell us a bit about his own story and his involvement on campus.
Where are you from and how did you end up at Dartmouth?
Joe: I’m from Duluth Minnesota. When I was applying to college, I wanted to find a small liberal arts school on the East Coast. I knew I wanted to apply to Dartmouth after my first visit. I visited during the summer and saw students riding bikes and throwing frisbees on the Green, studying on Collis Patio, and swimming in the river. Beyond the unique social and academic opportunities I knew I’d find at Dartmouth, I was impressed with the beautiful campus and the ways Dartmouth students can get outdoors to explore the Upper Valley.
What are you studying?
Joe: I am a Film and Media Studies Major and a Government minor. I’ve tried to focus my studies on journalism, with an emphasis on documentary. Basically, I’ve learned to tell stories. I study the different ways stories are delivered and received in the digital age. I have also done research on the spread and combat of misinformation in the era of “fact-checking.” I see how a story can connect sustainability to people, society, and issues like climate change and environmental justice.
Why did you become involved with the Sustainability Office? What has your experience as an intern been like?
Joe: I’ve been involved with the office since I was a freshman. I applied to become an intern as a mechanic on the Dartmouth Bikes team. I immediately found a family. It’s a great feeling to know I’m part of a team of students who come from so many different groups on campus. It’s rewarding to have been part of a project like the bikes team for so long. We’ve grown so much. We’ve launched a website and doubled our fleet of rental bikes. It’s been a great experience and I think Dartmouth getting recognized with a “gold” award as a bike friendly university by the American League of Bicyclists is a good indication of how we are promoting sustainability through bike culture at Dartmouth. It’s something we’re proud of, and it’s something I will be proud to pass on to the future intern teams.
My experience as an intern has been rewarding because it’s shown me I can make a difference. When I came to Dartmouth I brought a lot of assumptions. I saw Dartmouth as Ivy-League, world-renown, and somehow bigger than me. I knew Dartmouth would change me for the better, but I didn’t see how the relationship could be reciprocal until my time at the Sustainability Office. The office has shown me that even a place as grand as Dartmouth can improve to promote sustainable living, and that students are an important part of that process. This internship has taught me leadership skills, and given me not only the resources to tackle a project that I am passionate about, but also the satisfaction of seeing the project succeed. I’m proud to have made at least a small impact on the community during my time here.
What are your thoughts on the future of sustainability at Dartmouth?
Joe: For students who are interested in sustainability in particular, the transition between presidential administrations is creating anxiety about the future of energy and sustainable living. It’s inspirational to know that Dartmouth believes students and faculty can make a difference. I’m glad Dartmouth is empowering students and faculty to dig deep into the energy problem via the new Irving Institute. I think it’s important for students to understand that our work here at Dartmouth matters, and that promoting sustainability here is a way of leading by example.
What else are you involved with on campus?
Joe: In addition to Dartmouth Bikes and my work as an intern with the Sustainability Office, I play on the club soccer team and I am a member of Native Americans at Dartmouth. I’ve also been a member of the Ledyard Canoe Club and the DOC winter sports group.
How do you incorporate sustainability into your daily life? What else can Dartmouth students do to be more sustainable?
Joe: For me, an important part of living sustainably is not to ask something of someone else that I wouldn’t ask of myself. I try to do the small things like avoid purchasing plastic, buying local when I can, and sorting my compost from recycling, but I don’t necessarily scold others when they don’t do the same. I think for Dartmouth students, the challenge in making a sustainable choice is a challenge of overcoming inertia. I understand it’s almost always going to take a little extra time and effort to do the sustainable thing, and that we’re all busy people. That’s why, in my work at the office, I try to lead by example to get people excited about sustainability. I try to create a social buzz that makes it fun to do the sustainable thing. For example, in my work at Dartmouth Bikes, we noticed that many students ride bikes in need of serious repair. This causes safety concerns on campus. To encourage students to do the sustainable thing, Dartmouth Bikes hosted a series of educational workshops where we ordered pizza and taught students about proper bike maintenance. This turned fixing bikes into a fun social event. We brought members from across campus together to share an excitement about sustainability, and it made us feel good.
Favorite thing about Dartmouth? What do you do for fun?
Joe: My favorite thing about Dartmouth is that it has four seasons, and so many ways to enjoy them. I share most of my favorite memories here with friends. In the summer, I love going down to the river to swim and canoe with my roommates. I also like to cook, and I’ve had some great times grilling homegrown vegetables at the Sustainable Living Center. I love to hike in the fall and find great views of the turning leaves. In the winter, I like to ski at the Skiway, Mt. Sunapee, or somewhere in the backcountry if I can find a ride. I also like to go skiing at oak hill and to play pond hockey at Occom pond.
Favorite class you've taken so far? Recommendation for future students interested in sustainability?
Joe: One class I’d recommend for students interested in sustainability is Environmental Studies 11, Humans and Nature in America with professor Terry Osborne. It’s one of my favorite classes I’ve taken at Dartmouth. It’s an engaging and rewarding class, and it helped me articulate my personal relationship to the natural world, which, as I see it, is the foundation for the work I do in sustainability.
What, in your opinion, is the most important thing for bettering our world & future?
Joe: Working in sustainability can be difficult because we are sometimes seen as outsiders. More sustainable living will come with better education of communities on environmental issues and better enforcement of environmental regulations in those communities. This starts with bringing eclectic groups of people together and creating a collective interest in environmental sustainability.
If there’s one broad take-away from my time with the sustainability office, it’s the value of community. The challenges to sustainable living are not only issues of how we treat the environment, but also how we treat each other. My studies have shown me that issues of the environment are also issues of race, class, and socio-economics. I think for the environmental movement to make positive change, it’s essential to understand a sense of place, and that comes from community. My work in the sustainability office has taught me to know Dartmouth as my home, and to hold inclusivity as one of my core values.