Emily Donaldson ’15

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Name: Emily Donaldson ’15

Hometown: Brownsville, Vermont

Major: Environmental studies with a concentration in environment and development

Campus involvement/activities: Member of the Climate Justice Coalition, the Green Living Council, and the Pre-Law Association.

What are you most proud of accomplishing at MHC? My classmate Kim Meersma ’15 and I cofounded a nonprofit called Cultivating Action, after receiving LeadNow fellowships. I am proud that we have the support and guidance of the environmental studies department and Lauret Savoy, an insightful, kind, and encouraging professor. It is having mentors like Professor Savoy that enabled me to turn the skills I developed here at Mount Holyoke into tangible action. Our organization has already started building community around environmental solutions, and we currently are focused on expanding horticultural education in Vermont. I am confident taking the nonprofit forward knowing the strong foundation we have built here.

Favorite course that you thought you might not like: While on exchange at Dartmouth College my junior year, I decided to jump into the highest-level forest biogeochemistry course offered. I knew it would be challenging on the first day when it became clear that PhD candidates were taking it as well, but the professor made the material manageable, engaging, and even fun! As someone who doesn’t have a strong background in chemistry, I was surprised at how quickly an enthusiastic professor could fill in the gaps of my understanding.

Best takeaway from internship or research experiences: I assisted with collecting data on spatial and temporal responses to decreasing lead, copper, and zinc deposition in high-elevation forests for a soil science paper. When we were editing the manuscript after submitting it for peer review, I saw firsthand how rigorous this process is. The lesson: Working on peer-reviewed papers will result in late-night pizza parties, becoming best friends with reference librarians, and learning more about a subject than you might have thought possible.

Postgraduation plans: I will be taking a year off between graduation and law school to focus on Cultivating Action, and to build our capacity in Vermont. We already have partnered with elementary and high schools, businesses, and other organizations to maximize our impact. Movements begin with education, and challenges like global warming present an opportunity to address the human and ecological consequences of large environmental issues at a local level. In schools, we will be distributing resources and tools such as MicroFarm, a small aquaponics system in which fish provide the nutrients for plants growing above. This will help us bring science, technology, engineering, and math to life in classrooms in a hands-on way. Understanding the natural systems we inhabit and fostering stewardship will lead to healthier ecosystems and people. We hope to mobilize community action, develop youth leadership, and encourage innovation.

What you'd tell a prospective student about MHC: Mount Holyoke provides opportunities to turn goals into accomplishments, while exploring a range of subjects, friendships, and running trails! It is a small community with a broad reach, where students are dedicated to pursuing knowledge as well as giving back. From what I’ve heard, this community will continue on postgraduation, and this is a support system I am grateful to have.