5 Minutes with … Sarah Coffey
Tell us why you chose Stetson and what started your interest in the environment?
I chose Stetson because of the people. Every time I visited or interacted with Stetson folks on the phone or over email, they were incredibly welcoming and I could tell they were genuinely passionate about Stetson. Their energy and enthusiasm were contagious, and I wanted to be a part of it! It certainly helped that I was able to meet Dr. Tony Abbott (Professor of Environmental Science and Studies) at the Open House for the Honors Program before making my decision. With the honors program, environmental fellowship, and multiple sustainability related organizations on campus, I knew I would find my home at Stetson.
My interest in the environment is largely because of the way my parents raised me. They always taught me to conserve resources like water, electricity, and food. We have recycled for as long as I can remember! Another component that fostered my interest in the environment is my spiritual connection with the universe (again, something that was shown to me by my family). I feel so connected with all living organisms, and I know that the way I treat the environment is how I treat other people and ultimately myself.
You are an Environmental Sustainability Fellow, a 2016 Udall Scholar and were just named as a 2017 Newman Civic Fellow. What are some of your activities on campus?
As the first environmental fellow, I work to mentor the younger fellows to follow their passions and to become better leaders in the Stetson community. I am an environmental science and geography major who is passionate about implementing social and behavioral change using an interdisciplinary approach. I am particularly interested in environmental justice issues as well as the bidirectional relationship between industrialized food systems and climate change.
With the support of my professors, I became a 2016 Udall Scholar for her environmental initiatives and engagement with the Stetson community. I am also a 2017 Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellow due to my social justice activism in the community.
The most significant service involves my work with the local food movement and food justice. I am especially passionate about engaging children in gardening and in teaching the importance of eating locally and growing their own food. I have been an active member and the 2015-2016 Co-President of our campus garden club, Hatter Harvest, and organized markets for our organization and local farmers to sell their produce to Stetson and the DeLand community. I also have recently engaged in improving access to good local food in poorer parts of our city. In the spring of 2016, I worked with the Vice Principal and teachers of Citrus Grove Elementary, a Title I school (with a high concentration of low-income students), to plan and build a garden for students. The teachers now use the garden as an outdoor classroom.
In the fall of 2016, I started working with the Lacey Family Boys and Girls Club to help them build a garden. The Boys and Girls Club is located in a lower income community and is a recognized food desert. At least twice a month, I work in the garden with the children of the Boys and Girls Club. Another part of my community involvement with food justice addresses the abuse of migrant labor in Florida’s agricultural industry. I engage students in working with the local members of the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), a group dedicated to equity and justice for these disenfranchised and vulnerable people.
During my freshman and sophomore years, I tried making sustainability an integral part of the residential experience for students. I made a proposal in the spring of my sophomore year to have an entire residential community dedicated to living as sustainably as possible. My proposal was approved, and other students applied to be a part of this community as they shared the same goals of reducing their carbon footprint and water consumption. I am now the house manager for the “Sustaining Green Living” house on campus.
Earth Day is April 22. What will you be doing on Earth Day and what should the rest of us be doing?
Since Earth Day is on a Saturday this year, Stetson will be celebrating Earth Day on Friday, April 21. We have participated in Earth Day since its creation in 1970, and for our 47th celebration, we are having an Earth Day Festival on the lawn in front of Sage Hall from 1 p.m.-4 p.m.!
Students will have the opportunity to showcase their projects/research related to sustainability, and learn about the organizations on and off campus related to sustainability and environmental stewardship. There will be live musical performances by Stetson students as well as local food vendors from the community. Earth Day will be incredibly fun and informative featuring Cenergistic (an energy conservation company), the Gillespie Museum/Seed Library, the Volusia Sandhill, Hatter Harvest, Environmental Fellows, Stetson Beekeeping, Stetson Environmental Club, Stetson Scrappers, the Farmworker Association of Florida and Green Volusia. Stetson students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community are invited to participate.
On Earth Day, April 22, I will be participating in the March for Science at one of the satellite marches (in New Smyrna Beach). The March for Science “demonstrates our passion for science and sounds a call to support and safeguard the scientific community.” I encourage all who want action to be taken regarding our climate and other environmental crises to participate. I also want to comment that Earth Day should be every day, ultimately because we live on this planet every day.
When people ask what it’s like to attend Stetson, what do you say?
I’m the kid who goes around shouting, “Stetson is awesome and I’m not just saying that!” during campus tours. Seriously, I love Stetson, and I never think twice about my decision to come here. There is such a strong sense of community (as long as you choose to get involved in our student organizations). The class sizes are small enough so that we get individual attention, and the faculty are always willing to spend time with us outside of class. There are opportunities for research even as an underclassman. Though no place is perfect, what I love about Stetson is that the administration listens to the student body. If you make the time to provide feedback as well as solutions, you will be heard.
What would you like to be doing in 10 years?
I’ve learned to accept that the future is impossible to predict, and I welcome whatever comes my way! Based on my current perspective, I hope that in 10 years, I’ll be working in whatever community I live in to adapt to climate change and to create a better quality of life for all. By quality of life, I really mean happiness and the ability to sustain life.
I believe that any community that demonstrates determination and support of one another can create a better environment, so it is my goal to facilitate — using the community’s knowledge of their local environment and people — sustainable community-building. I want my career first and foremost to involve working with families and individuals because people are my greatest passion. Personally, I hope to spend a lot of time with my family and to have one of my own. To me, family (and friends) are what make life worth living.
Hometown: I’ve lived in 6 states (New Mexico, Oregon, Maryland, Connecticut, Florida, and Virginia), but I will pick Bradenton, Florida, since I’ve lived there the longest.
Family: My mom, Jenny; my dad, Randy, and my sister/best friend, Michelle. My mom is a licensed mental health counselor, my sister is a clinical social worker, and my dad is a dentist and professor of dental medicine. If you haven’t noticed, we’re very big into the helping professions! We are an extremely close family and while we all live in different places now, we talk to each other every day.
Educational goals: I plan to pursue a Ph.D. immediately after graduation in a program focused on environmental justice. There are two programs in particular that I am interested in pursuing, one being in food justice in rural and/or marginalized communities and the other in sustainable water governance for indigenous peoples. Both would provide me with the opportunity to live out my career goal of working directly with people to build more sustainable communities.
Your passion: In addition to the environment and gardening, I started dancing ballet at the age of 3, and also learned how to dance jazz, modern, character, and tap. Until I was 16, my biggest dream was to be a ballerina. I have danced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and teach two ballet classes a week at the Hollis Center. I’ve also enjoyed playing piano since I was 8.