Archive by Author

Bright Ideas: Spotlight on Monique Gagne

16 Mar

As a CEEDS intern, one of my favorite topics to blog about is students focused on the environment. It is always interesting to see how they have woven their passion for the environment into their liberal arts education. Lucky for me, this campus is filled with confident, conscious women who are well on their way to changing the world. I met Monique Gagne, ’13 on my recent trip to Washington, D.C. and was impressed by her activism and dedication to environmental challenges like stopping the expansion of the Keystone XL Pipeline. She is not shy about standing up for the environment. On the trip to D.C. she was also one of a small faction of traditional-age students, or “trads” as we Adas call them, that went out of her way to make me feel comfortable, as I didn’t really know any of the students on the excursion. I liked her immediately.


As we talked about what fuels her passion for the environment, I learned that Monique is a former intern for the Office of Environmental Sustainability, also located here in CEEDS. Having that in common, her interview became more of a conversation. It was wonderful to chat about her experiences and how she plans on continuing to link her past, present and future to address the looming environmental concerns that face this planet.

Monique is an engineering major with a minor in landscape studies. As she began taking classes at Smith, she realized that the environmental engineering track was the one that appealed to her the most. She focused on the petroleum industry early in her studies, but was intrigued by advanced topics in water quality.  She began to delve deeper into the issue of water quality and the concerns that are certain to arise when water becomes scarce. Monique followed her new-found interest into a PRAXIS funded internship this past summer, which allowed her to work with sustainable water systems.

Ms. Gagne has already secured employment at Lutron Electronics after she graduates this year. This innovative company has been on the forefront of sustainability by using smart technology to save energy. The dimmers that Lutron creates use daylight to determine just how much light is necessary in a space. This simple element lowers energy consumption, which is a central step to creating energy efficient spaces. As we were talking, Monique pointed out Lutron technology in the lighting system above us in the Campus Center. Their energy-saving products are also in some of the other high performance buildings on campus, like Ford Hall. Monique will be able to use the know-how and environmental awareness she learned here to carry into her life after Smith.

How has her liberal arts education prepared her for her future? Monique noted that because of her Smith education she can no longer see the world through just an engineering or a landscape lens. Instead, she sees the nature of the world as multidisciplinary, which allows her to be creative as she seeks to effectively engage environmental issues– and life.  It is comforting to know that there are students like Monique here at Smith who care about the fate of the environment and who are thinking about what happens to the next generation as well.


– Liz Wright, ‘AC

Rallying Against Climate Change

26 Feb

“Don’t be a chump.” These were the words Van Jones, a senior policy adviser at Green for All and Obama’s former Special Adviser for Green Jobs, declared on February 17, 2013 at the Stand Up for Climate Change Rally in Washington D.C. By the end of his speech, he had everyone chanting this mantra, which had the simultaneous effect of making me smile as well as conjuring up a steely resolve to stand up to climate change.

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The Smith College Green Team, with the leadership of Siiri Bigalki ’15, was able to fund and charter a bus that carried nearly fifty Smithies overnight to rally against climate change. It was not an easy trip, but we could not sit idly by and watch as others stepped out of their comfort zone to effect change. Leaving Northampton at 10:30 pm, we had to pack for overnight travel, sleep in cramped seats, and eat whatever we could carry, braving hours of frigid temperatures as we prepared to march on the nation’s capital. It was the least we could do to make our mark and represent Smith College in this peaceful demonstration. An estimated 40,000 people from all over the country joined the march on the National Mall in Washington D.C. It was by far the largest and most energetic rally for action against climate change yet.  The idea was to make Barack Obama take notice of the environmental concerns that accompany the continued extraction of fossil fuels with the specific goal of rejecting the further development of the Keystone XL Pipeline. It was not meant to be a demonstration of civil disobedience but rather a plea to our nation’s leaders to stand up to the status quo.

As one of more than two hundred and fifty colleges that attended the rally from all over the country, Smith College was invited to a youth gathering at the W Hotel blocks away from the White House. We met in the “great room” of the hotel to get energized and share information about each of our school’s environmental work. Smith’s Green Team members met with other like-minded individuals to confer about their fossil fuel divestment campaigns, and other topics like local solutions to global problems, how to keep the movement going into the summer and the most effective ways to take action now. The energy was contagious and, even though we had slept poorly on the bus the night before, we got caught up in the lively intensity created by the other rowdy college students.

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Celebrity speakers at the rally included Rosario Dawson (Sin City), Evangeline Lily (Lost), Nolan Gould (Modern Family), as well as Chief Jacqueline Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation and Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nations. Some of their standout comments were memorable and I couldn’t help but jot them down. Bill McKibben stated that “we [the activists] are the antibodies that the earth is using to fight its fever.” That was on the heels of the comment from the Cree Nation saying that “we cannot eat money and we cannot drink oil.” In essence we have to look beyond profits and death and stand up for what is going to be healthy for the earth going forward. I was proud to stand up for my country, my college and my future. Although I have to come to terms with the fact that this rally might not yield the results I am looking for, I know that I at least stood up for the planet in the face of climate uncertainty.

-Liz Wright, AC

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The Only Thing You Can Eat is Outside of Yourself: Lisa Heldke’s Philosophy on Food

11 Oct

Do words like “terroirism” or “freeganism” make you turn your head and take notice? I am easily pulled into environmental topics that haven’t been fully revealed to me before. Being an ES& P major, I am often immersed in topics like food activism and its related issues. There is plenty of controversy surrounding our food and what dictates a healthy person or a healthy diet. I am seeking answers to whether humans are doomed as a “healthy society” and Lisa Heldke’s recent lecture clarified some important points.

Lisa Heldke is a professor of philosophy at Gustavas Adolphus College, and clearly felt comfortable in front of an expectant crowd. Dr. Heldke has published numerous articles, as well as a book, Exotic Appetites: Ruminations of a Food Adventurer. She has also co-edited two books in this area:  Cooking, Eating, Thinking: Transformative Philosophies of Food that was co-edited with Deane Curtain; The Atkins Diet and Philosophy is part of a series of books that explores popular culture using philosophy. Her most recent lecture was called Urban Farmers and Rural Cosmopolitans, which was here at Smith College.

I was shocked at how much I have to learn about food philosophy and what it means to truly understand topics as complicated as food dichotomy. One of her solutions to improve human health was to cluster typically binary dichotomies together to mutually support one another; dichotomies like consumer/producer, global/local, urban/rural, cosmopolitan/provincial, to name a few. With more cooperation between these entities,  many of the food-related issues we face can be solved.

Dr. Heldke has a self-deprecating sense of humor and a quick wit that had the audience on her side immediately. Complicated theories that were based on long-dead philosophers and activists  like Jane Addams and John Dewey were made easy to understand as she navigated her way through her PowerPoint and Wordle sets. She has spent the better part of her career pondering her theory that food=everything, and the lens through which we use to examine the world is multi-disciplinary. According to Dr. Heldke, “Philosophy is usually accused of making grand sweeping claims that can build a cantankerous relationship between science and philosophy.” Parasitism was a key focus of her lecture. She points to the relationship between a chicken-of-the-woods mushroom and the heartwood of the tree that it feasts on and eventually kills. She makes the comparison that humans have a host and parasite relationship with their food resources as well. She makes the philosophical claim that beings depend on beings for sustenance, meaning this parasitic lifestyle is merely natural, even unavoidable.

Dr. Heldke framed the cultural aspect of food with arguments by Charlotte Biltekoff, a professor at University of California at Davis who makes the argument that food sovereignty is built of two positions: neo-liberalism and elitism. These are opposing arguments suggesting that poor people are not just poor, they are bad somehow for being fat or unhealthy. Somehow “healthy living” leaves behind the poorer sectors of the working class. Cultural politics dictate that only those with money can afford to live healthy lives. The point is, we need to rethink the way our culture looks at dietary ideals, where our food comes from, and what it means to be a food activist.

Many of the terms that Dr. Heldke used were new to me, including “new agrarianism,” “farm to college,” and “organiculture,” but they struck a chord with me, and stood out as something to investigate further. Sometimes the typical buzzwords can be over-used to the point that we become desensitized and become apathetic. The main take-away that Lisa Heldke seemed to be illustrating is that food activism is not easy to depict and is never neatly represented. Her efforts are to bring clarity that can potentially lead to food scholarship; the missing keystone to the way humans cook, eat and think.
Liz Wright ‘AC, CEEDS Intern

Meet the new interns of CEEDS! Liz, Renée, and Stephanie

25 Sep

Liz Wright

As far as I can remember, I have had a passion for the environment, but it wasn’t until the last few years that I realized how to funnel that passion into a potential career. In the meantime, I am excited to take in what Smith college and western Mass has to offer. I am a second-semester sophomore and I am currently on the ES&P track. So far my favorite class is Horticulture lab with Gaby Immerman. It seems like the most practical knowledge I have experienced so far, as we are learning to identify plants in real-life situations. I am thrilled to recognize by name the flowers, trees and shrubs I have admired for so long.

As an Ada Comstock scholar, I have a little more age and experience, yet this doesn’t always mean that I know more about important issues that face the  world than a traditional age student. What I have realized is that the more I learn, the more I want to learn about what I can do to help slow down the degradation of the environment. I am hoping to come out of my education at Smith with more gardening, sustainability, and real world experience. This internship with CEEDS seems to be a step in the right direction.

Renee Ricci

Hi everyone! My name is Renee Ricci and I’m looking forward to beginning my work with CEEDS!  I come from Bristol, Rhode Island and I love spending time in and around the ocean. I’m a senior at Smith College, completing a major in Geosciences and a minor in Anthropology. During the summer of 2011 I contributed research to the Avery Brook Watershed project- a rewarding experience that inspired me to pursue more green initiatives at Smith. I’m particularly interested in water development in parts of Africa and the Indian Subcontinent.

When I’m not blogging for CEEDS, I can most often be found cooking, hiking, or singing a’cappella with The Vibes.

Stephanie Cervantes (’13)

I’m a senior with a Government and Environmental Studies and Policy double major. In my studies, I have concentrated on sustainable development and environmental policy and hope that in the future I can work with communities to evolve current cities to sustainable cities. I have spent my time at Smith involved in many things green; this is my 3rd year as Sustainable Rep for my house and my 2nd year as a Sustainable Rep Facilitator. I am very excited to be working so closely with CEEDS this year because I want to make Smith as sustainable as possible. I also spent my junior year abroad in Denmark in a sustainable development program, so I want to take many of those skills and knowledge and apply them here.