Student Spotlight: Margarita Ren '18 and Paul Vickers '19

This year, Margarita and Paul managed the Sustainability Action Workshop (SAW) program. Their group piloted a transformation of the House Center A snack bar into a pop up farm stand selling local cheese, cured meets, local, greenhouse grown produce, eggs and more to offer students the chance to purchase local food with Dining Dollars. SAW also conducted research to identify ways to reduce plastic bags in Dartmouth's waste stream, including a survey that received 500+ responses, and presenting their findings to Dining Services and Facilities and Operations Management!

Where you are from? What lead you to Dartmouth?

Margarita:

I’m from New York City. I think a big part of why I chose Dartmouth is the emphasis the College puts on undergrad engagement. I was excited about having a small community feel, and I also felt like there was opportunity for me to explore my academic interests because of Dartmouth’s strong liberal arts education.

Paul: I am from Portland, Oregon. When I was looking at colleges, I knew I wanted to travel far from home. During my college tour of the East Coast I fell in love with Dartmouth. I was attracted to Dartmouth based on the students, the connectivity of Dartmouth with the outdoors, and the world class opportunities the College provides. What are your academic interests?

Margarita:

I’m an Environmental Studies and Women and Gender Studies double major. Overall, I’m interested in systems thinking and specifically environmental justice and food justice work. I like interrogating the way that power runs in different systems.

Paul: My academic interests primarily relate to the interaction of natural ecosystems and human urban development. I have pursued this interest through a major in biology concentrated in ecology. Last winter I had an amazing opportunity to go on the biology FSP program to Costa Rica and the Cayman Islands to explore the biodiversity found in those terrestrial and marine ecosystems. I also am pursuing a minor in engineering sciences. I hope to be able to combine these dual interests to work to balance human urban develop needs with environmental impact and work to create a more sustainable future.

How do you spend your time outside of classes?

Margarita:

One of my other commitments besides the Sustainability Office has been learning and working with justice groups on campus. 4A (Asian and Pacific American Students for Action) is a big part of that. I’m also part of the ICC (Inter Community Council) and I try to get to know students and groups who have similar practices. I’m also part of MIC Music in Color, an a capella group. I’ll be one of the execs next year and I’m excited for that. Lastly, I'm part of Dartmouth’s figure skating team. The team is really great about creating a support system, and I really appreciate that.

Paul: Outside of class, I am an active member of The Tabard Gender Inclusive Fraternity. The Tabard has provided me a space on campus to connect with other members of the LGBT+ community and engage with students from all backgrounds. I am also the Dartmouth lead coordinator for IvyQ, a conference for queer students attending liberal arts colleges. Lastly, I am a recreational runner and can often be found on my favorite route through Pine Park. Why is sustainability important to you? How do you incorporate sustainability in daily life?

Margarita:

I remember during a workshop we had to write down characteristics of sustainability that meant the most to us, and I wrote down, “relationality.” I think a big part of sustainability is thinking about our relationships to each other as well as the space we’re in. I feel like there is a responsibility I have to consider where I am and how my position fits in. Early on a lot of my focus was on waste issues, but now a lot of my thinking is considering what Professor Anne Kapuscinski calls “flourishing” or the idea of infinite growth. It’s not necessarily a calculated growth, but it is a sense of moving toward something.

I recycle and sort my waste and stuff like that, but I think part of incorporating sustainability in daily life is recognizing that sustainability is about sustaining our communities, and making sure that our communities have the resources to flourish now as well as in the future. I’m interested in interrogating why some people don’t have access to certain parts of sustainability.

Paul: Growing up, sustainability was always second nature to me coming from a place where environmentalism is the norm. However, as I got older, I began to become more and more fascinated with the intricate natural systems and cycles happening all around us, and sustainability became more than a cultural practice but a fascinating method of scientific inquiry. My recent experience in Costa Rica made me appreciate the natural wonder of the world around me, and how important protecting it is. In my daily life I try to be sustainable by avoiding single use, shopping at second hand stores, and being aware of the environmental impact of any dollar that I spend. I try to research brands before buying their product and when possible look for fair trade or other environmental certification on the things I buy. Could you reflect on your time managing SAW (Sustainability Action Workshop)? What was most challenging? What are you proudest of?

Margarita:

I think it’s really special to have a space where it’s easily accessible to join in on very concrete action. A big part of the success of the farm stand was that we had so many members who were so eager and willing to jump in and do so many different tasks. Even if the tasks weren't huge, people were willing to step up. With a workshop setting, a lot of our work was fostering and facilitating skill sets like relationship building for doing any action on campus. We were able to highlight the different skill sets that different members had. Students who were more inclined to get into the data had an opportunity to do that, and other members who wanted to think more and explore how sustainability issues were impacting the community were able to do that.

It was also great to see students really eager and willing to create a community space out of SAW. It wasn’t like we were just coming in to work; there are members rooming together next year, members taking classes together and forming study groups and so on. Yes, there’s work to do but there’s also a really positive energy that I think carries over to our work with campus partners. I’m proud of our team's excitement to learn and think about sustainability topics, especially because their learning is goal oriented and not product oriented. They’re really invested in the process and in thinking about how to build community around shared values.

Throughout this year I’ve realized that there is an energy towards taking the time to reflect on what could be better on campus and having a space to push for that with full support is something I really appreciate. I think the success of SAW and other sustainability projects is because of how we are able to support each other in ways that other groups on campus might not be able to. It’s been cool to see how we are expanding in terms of how we define sustainability and how we see our community. I’ve seen a lot of respectful encouragement for students and what they are interested in and passionate about, and I appreciate how holistic that support has been, both in SAW and in the Office in general.

Paul: The SAW farm-stand was a culmination of three terms of effort. I am most proud of the continued effort the entire team put in to make the event happen. Coordinating logistics over many terms is incredibly difficult to do at Dartmouth. I was consistently impressed with the thought and effort the group of 15 fellow students put into researching how the Dartmouth food system works and working within the system to create unique access for fellow students to get locally sourced goods especially considering the majority of them were first year students. One of the most challenging components of the event is coordinating logistics through the many stockholders involved including: individual farmers, distributors, DDS administrators, and housing community administrators. I learned that when dealing with so many different groups clear communication is critical. Moving forward, I think this SAW group built great momentum to increase the amount of locally sourced foods made available for students by demonstrating huge student support for the initiative. I hope this program can be expanded in the future, and I am excited to see what actions SAW takes on next year.

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