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Student Spotlight: Kellen Appleton '20

We caught up with Kellen to hear a bit about his background, interests, and involvement in the Sustainability Office!

Where you are from? What led you to Dartmouth?

I grew up in southern West Virginia on a small farm that my family owned. My grandfather bought the farm when it was still just forest land and we spent the next several years converting the forest into workable land and adding running water, electricity, and phone lines. I was homeschooled with my three younger siblings there until 10thgrade when I started attending a local private school. Being both homeschooled and living on a farm, I had more or less free run of my days to peruse whatever interested me. I spent most of my time hiking through our forest and building some haphazard contraptions with leftover construction material. In our forest I had forts and catapults, and a lot of time on my hands.

This environment developed my curiosity and allowed me to peruse my interests freely. When it came time for me to choose colleges, that was the sort of thing that brought me to Dartmouth. I liked its closeness to the outdoors and the relative freedom within the college.

What are your academic interests?

I came to college really interested in Math, but mostly because it was the only thing I felt like I was good at. I’ve taken a lot of math classes since, and it’s something that I’m still interested in, but now I view it more as a tool than as something that I want to pursue for its own sake. I’ve come to realize that what I care about is sustainability and climate change. To that end, I’ve started to take more Earth Science classes with a focus on climate, and I hope to use my math background to model climate systems.

Do you have a favorite class you have taken so far or one that you would recommend to students interested in sustainability?

If talking to someone with little background in sustainability or just a favorite class in general, I’d recommend Earth Sciences 2 with Erich Osterberg and Justin Strauss. It’s a great crash course in the history of the Earth from its formation to the evolution of life, to basic tectonics, to glaciers, to climate. When I took it, there was a strong emphasis on understanding the Earth as a whole, showing exactly how humans are using their influence to change the climate, and comparing that to ancient earth conditions. At the end, there was a piece on the future of the earth and climate and how we must change our energy generation to adapt to the future.

Could you describe your involvement with sustainability on campus?

I came to college not 100% sure that I was interested in sustainability, but I saw an email about the EcoReps program, and figured that I was probably qualified for it given my background. I applied, got it, and then have spent the rest of my time here working in the Sustainability Office. Freshman year, I worked with the EcoReps on a project to bring more attention to Dartmouth’s energy use and its generation. In sophomore year, I worked as a Waste Intern for the office, and have been working on waste-related projects since. Working with the ‘21s EcoReps and Dartmouth Dining, we succeeded in expanding the Green2Go reusable container system to the Hop Cafe. We also worked with the Listen Center to get a donation bin on campus to reduce clothing waste. Finally, I’ve been helping Dartmouth better understand its waste system and where waste is generated on campus. In addition to formal internships in the office, I’ve been living in the Sustainable Living Center, “SLC,” for the past four terms and managing the house. Living in the SLC is an amazing opportunity to see more of the community and to practice sustainability – which complements the more analytical work that I’ve normally done with the Sustainability Office.

Why is sustainability important to you? How do you incorporate sustainability into your daily life?

As I mentioned before, I grew up in West Virginia on a small farm. Because of that, I was directly familiar with the impacts that humans have on the environment. The political and industrial climate of West Virginia is climate denialism combined with a passion for mining and burning coal, but the state is directly affected by large flooding events caused by climate change. I also mentioned that my family developed our farm from forest land. We only farmed for about 10 years, but even in the short time, we could directly see our impact on our land. Most strikingly, we could see the effects of our hogs on the woods in reducing underbrush, increasing erosion, and destroying trees in just a short amount of time.

Because of that, it was obvious to me that human degradation of the environment is real and pressing, and that to exist in the future, humans need to make large changes. Because of that I do my best to incorporate sustainable practices in my daily life and encourage others to do so as well.

You participated in the recent New England Energy Immersion trip hosted by the Sustainability Office and the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society. What was that like and how did it broaden your understanding of energy and sustainability?

I went on the New England trip because I had focused a lot on what how our energy system needed to change, but I had no idea what the processes for change were or what efforts were being taken to change it. We spent a lot of time talking to people in New England about the current state of the energy system and its generation, and some of the people trying to change it. We spoke to lobbyists, contractors, foresters, and utilities, and it really gave me a greater appreciation for the amount of work going into change and the challenges to change in New England. Most importantly, change is really hard, and that any changes affect many many people, no matter what changes they are or how obvious the changes may seem.

In your opinion, what are the next steps to improve waste systems at Dartmouth? What can students do to help?

Waste systems are the sustainability infrastructure that people come into contact with the most, and in general, we do a poor job of interacting with it. What it really comes down to is that we as people produce far too much waste and after we produce waste, we don’t do a great job of dealing with it. People often think that recycling is the solution to waste, but recycling has its limits, and our current recycling systems don’t do a great job of actually turning the waste we give them into new material.

Like I said, waste is what most people encounter the most. If students want to improve their impact on the environment, waste is a great place to start. In general, just, waste less. Produce less waste and it’ll be better, whether that be single use plastics, clothes, books, etc. Buying secondhand is a great way to reduce waste. And once waste is produced, making sure that your waste is sorted really well is incredibly important. Many of the struggles of waste at Dartmouth have to do with poor post-consumer waste sorting. But you can help!

Anything else you’d like to add that you think our readers would be interested in knowing!

Basically that anyone can have a really big impact on sustainability anywhere, at Dartmouth or otherwise. If you have ideas tell them to someone and make them happen. Also, that the people who work in the Sustainability Office are so incredibly friendly and helpful and I know people don’t talk to them enough. Office hours are fun and great for baked goods. Talk to them!!

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