My SFS experience was absolutely transformational in my development…the observational, analytical, and empathetic skills I started honing at SFS are very relevant.
SFS PROGRAM: Rainforest Studies | Australia | Spring 1992
HOME SCHOOL WHILE AT SFS: Tufts University
CURRENT POSITION: Senior Program Officer, The Brinson Foundation
SFS Influence on My Career and Desire to Give Back
Although I have spent my career behind a desk mostly in urban Chicago, my SFS field experience was absolutely transformational in my development. I’ve mostly worked in the nonprofit field, spending about 10 years helping run nonprofits (including lots of fundraising) before “switching sides” over a decade ago to become a grantmaker. My first grantmaking role was at Boeing, which specifically funds environmental nonprofits, among others. And while the family foundation I’m at currently doesn’t focus on environmental work, the observational, analytical and empathetic skills I started honing at SFS are very relevant.
The best part of my job now is the field work I get to do observing grantees in Chicago Public Schools and various other community settings then translating my analysis to our board of directors. As I learned at SFS, there is no substitute for experiencing another environment in person to build empathy. Chicago is, unfortunately, a tale of two cities with vast inequalities among residents. I see how transformative it is for students who have grown up here but never seen Lake Michigan–the body of water that defines our City, just a few miles from their neighborhoods–to travel to downtown Chicago. We also know how important experiential learning is for young people to have hands-on opportunities. These are the types of opportunities that SFS provides, and I appreciate that SFS is thinking deeply about how to make their programs more accessible to low-income, first generation college-going, and/or under-represented minority students.
This is why I have been a modest annual donor to SFS for the past 25 years. Over 10% of SFS’ budget comes from contributions, and scholarships are one of the most direct ways to increase SFS’ accessibility to less privileged students. I’d encourage all alumni to reflect on the importance SFS has had in your lives and consider contributing (I swear this is completely unsolicited advice!).
This spring has been very nostalgic for me as I celebrated my 25th year graduation from Tufts University and my 20th year graduation from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. Running into other SFS alumni at my 25th college reunion encouraged me to pull out old photo albums and SFS course catalogs, and many of my memories remain vivid. I remember fostering orphaned flying fox bats that would return to “crash land” on students’ heads as we ate dinner on the veranda. I remember splitting firewood to build a fire under the water tank to have hot water for showers or for the wood-burning stove where we rotated preparing meals for 30 people each day. I remember getting up early to hear the dawn chorus and staying up late spotlighting for wildlife. But mostly I remember the people. The amazing faculty, staff and fellow students, many of whom are still working in the environmental and sustainability field making our world a better place.