Bennington students have long been engaged in environmental issues, but only recently has the Environmental Studies Program come into existence. Before heading off to her Peace Corps assignment in Africa, Helen Rose Patterson ’10 sat down to discuss her experiences in Bennington’s growing environmental studies concentration.
CT: Where does your interest in environmental studies come from?
HRP: My father has worked in environmental conservation since I was a small child. When my sister and I were young we spent a lot of time in important Mississippi ecosystems learning about flora and fauna that he was working to preserve as the state director of The Nature Conservancy. This instilled in me a deep love of hardwood bottomland forests, coastal longleaf pine savannah and coastal brackish wetlands.
CT: What class at Bennington really affected the way you look at environmental issues?
HRP: When I first came to Bennington I intended to study literature but I took Global Change with Kerry Woods my first semester. I was in tears after almost every class because I felt so overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to find solutions to these complex global environmental issues. I would call my father and ask him how he got up every morning and fought what so often feels like a loosing battle and he told me that I would get to a point where the issues wouldn’t feel so overwhelming and I would discover the role that I could play.
CT: What are your goals for the future?
HRP: I am going into the Peace Corps where I will be an environmental educator somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa for two years. I then intend to move back to Ocean Springs, MS where I have been asked to start a community garden. I would like to develop curriculum that can be used in schools and in conjunction with our local community/cultural center to allow people of all ages and backgrounds to explore what the environment means to them. I may eventually get a graduate degree in environmental education or restoration ecology. I intend to spend my life on the Gulf Coast working to solve the environmental problems that my home is facing and helping foster understanding of and care for local ecosystems.
CT: What would be one thing you would tell future students in environmental studies?
HRP: It is essential that you do not become overwhelmed by the complexity of environmental issues. The same advice my father gave me applies across the board; you will find the thing that you are passionate about and you must remember that you cannot solve the problems on your own, but that there are other people out there who care just as much as you do and they will work with you.