By the time I graduated high school, I promised myself that I would find a career that wouldn’t require me to take any more math or science courses. Immediately trying to get my science requirement out of the way, I scoured the course listings at UI to find that class I thought I could survive–Natural Hazards and Disasters. While I hadn’t been able to connect the dots and see the practicality of other science classes, this course clicked. It turned out to be the perfect science course for me because our discussions focused not only on the scientific concepts, but also on how we as humans can determine if natural hazards become manmade disasters.
That summer, my two “hometowns” were devastated by the Floods of 2008, bringing to life those intersections of man and nature we had just finished discussing a month before. Both at home with my parents and as a student here, I couldn’t escape the realities of the environmental, economic and political consequences of the flood. Watching these events unfold made me rethink the way I wanted to work in public policy and ultimately drew me towards sustainability.
My study abroad experience in Ghana reinforced this by bringing sustainability to life in a very different way. For example, every morning when I awoke, I would listen for two things: (1) was my fan still on and (2) could I hear the showers running? If my fan was on—it meant that the power was still on. If the showers were running, that meant I could take a shower that day, even though I knew it would be freezing cold. Here at Iowa, there is never a day where I wake up wondering if the lights were going to be on that night when I wanted to study or if I should go fill a bucket with water, just in case the showers didn’t work for the next couple of days. Not being able to consume at the rate that I was accustomed to taught me an important lesson about conservation. Let’s just say that those simple luxuries are not something that I take for granted anymore.
With these experiences, I think it would easy to feel helpless or bogged down by the weight of the world’s problems. Instead, I hope someday I will be working with sustainability in tow, trying to solve those very problems. Until then, I will turn off electronics that I am not using, carry a reusable water bottle and recycle–doing my part to work towards the type of world I want to live in, one light switch at a time.