Alyssa Gao '20 talks about her love of the natural world, her passion for music, and her idea for Bridges, a student leadership summit she organized to convene students from throughout the region, promote sustainability on university campuses, and build an intercollegiate sustainability network.
Where you are from? What lead you to Dartmouth?
I am from Batavia, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Both of my parents immigrated from China before I was born. One of my older sister’s friends is currently an ‘18 here, and she had strongly encouraged me to apply when I was a senior in high school. Seeing how much she loved Dartmouth made me want to come here as well!
What are your academic interests?
I have always been fascinated with the natural world, particularly wildlife. As I learned more about how humans affect and are affected by the environment, my interests expanded to include the dynamics between ecological and social systems. I am in the midst of declaring an Environmental Studies major. I was drawn to this field because of its multidisciplinary nature - I love how it draws from a range of vastly different disciplines, from history to economics to biology.
I am also working towards minors in Public Policy and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. As someone who is drawn to the nexus between science, policy-making, and civic advocacy, I hope to actively participate in the science-policy interface and empower people of all walks of life to work towards a sustainable future.
Describe your involvement in sustainability on campus.
I began working with Alex and Madison, the wonderful Sustainable Dartmouth interns, in the fall of this year to organize a sustainability summit for spring 2018. This summit, coined Bridges, will provide an opportunity for students from different colleges who share a passion for promoting sustainability on university campuses to connect and build a network.
During my freshman year, I started conducting research in Professor Anne Kapuscinski’s lab as a Women in Science Project Scholar. The goal of our research is to develop a sustainable alternative for conventional aquaculture diets. I am fortunate enough to continue my research this year, with the support of the Carol Folt Research Scholarship.
Are you involved in other things on campus? How do you spend your time outside of classes?
On campus, I am involved in the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra as a violinist and as one of the student managers. I am also an associate editor for the Dartmouth Law Journal. Additionally, I am a member of Alpha Xi Delta and a resident of the Thought Project Living Learning Community. In my free time, I like to spend time with friends, play violin, go on walks and runs, listen to music, read, and watch films.
Why is sustainability important to you? How do you incorporate sustainability in daily life?
Sustainability is important to me because we are a part of this world, and as such, we have a duty to share it with all other inhabitants and treat it with respect. I believe that we should strive to provide a space for humanity to thrive that is both environmentally friendly and socially just. Sustainability also fascinates me because it has the rare ability to transcend the boundaries of geography, ethnicity, and background. Even though it is such a complex and broad topic, sustainability can be a powerful uniting force that brings people together while still appreciating difference and diversity.
I try my best to practice and champion sustainability in daily life by being conscious of how my behavior affects the environment and acting with intention. I am constantly exploring ways to reduce my personal footprint, from carrying a spork to hang drying my laundry instead of using dryers. My goals at the moment are to reduce my food waste and minimize the amount of plastic I use.
Where did the idea for Bridges come from? What do you hope to achieve with this event?
During my freshman year, a few of my friends attended Ivy-Q, a conference which aims to create a pan-Ivy community of LGBTQ students. After hearing about their positive experiences, I began to wonder if there was a similar gathering for students in sustainability. While Dartmouth has sent sustainability interns to local conferences in the past, there has never been a sustainability-focused event that capitalizes on existing college networks. I was inspired to create an intercollegiate summit that would encourage students to think critically about sustainability and reflect on their ability to bring about change on college campuses.
As with all plans, several unexpected challenges popped up along the way. There were far more logistical details to factor in than I had anticipated, and keeping track of all the moving parts was quite difficult at times. Grounding the vision in reality was also a challenge throughout the entire planning process, especially when it came to adjusting the direction and scope of the summit.
Working with my fellow committee members made this experience especially rewarding. All of them are dedicated and willing to take initiative, and it has been so inspiring to work with them. I was also blown away by the interest in this event, both from Dartmouth students and non-Dartmouth students, as well as by the support from community members and the Sustainability Office.
Bridges seeks to engage students in current issues that we face on campuses, encourage the active development of sustainability goals, inspire new approaches to sustainability, and create cross-campus connections. Sustainability can often be a very overwhelming topic, and something I personally struggle with is staying positive and hopeful. I wanted this summit to demonstrate to students that they belong to a large community of people who are actively working to transform their institutions and communities into models of sustainability. My hope is that students will depart at the end of the day feeling inspired and ready to continue striving towards positive environmental change at their schools, with the new ability to reach out to fellow student leaders at other universities. I hope that this summit will establish and reinforce connections within Dartmouth while promoting ongoing discussion amongst students across campuses.