Sarah Rodgers '19

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    2019

    What was your major at St. Mike’s and when did you graduate? My major was environmental studies with a focus on justice and sustainability, and I minored in human geography. I graduated in 2019.

    Did you take part in any clubs or activities at St. Mike’s that were important to you or shaped your experience there? I was a member of the Women’s Volleyball team for three years, SAAC, and GreenUp. I spent my last year and a half at SMC very involved with the Campus Farm. That is where I started to find my true passion. The work that I did with the farm, the farm crew, and Kristyn Achilich really shaped my future after SMC, but also brought me great friends and amazing experiences while still in school. The summer I worked on the farm was so fun and formative, I think about it often and am in touch with the rest of the farm crew very frequently!

    What is your current profession and why did you choose it? I recently graduated from the University of Montana with my master’s in environmental studies. My thesis work focused on the experiences and perceptions of pesticide contamination of organic crops. I spent the last two years interviewing organic producers and industry and regulatory officials here in Montana. I also spent the last two years as a teaching assistant/crew leader at the campus farm where I continued practicing and crafting my farm-based education skills. While I currently don’t have a ‘profession,’ I hope that my next career move is into a farm/garden-based educator or manager role. I am also looking into agricultural adjacent non-profits and organizations that work in advocacy and education to support the food system.

    What activities, hobbies, volunteer work or passion project means the most to you? Does it give you a sense of purpose or help others find theirs? Living in Montana allows for lots of hobbies and activities. I have grown fond of so many of the activities here such as floating the river, skiing, hiking, and looking for wildflowers that cover the mountains here. In Montana, I have also been able to find really great opportunities to get involved with the Missoula community and volunteer my time towards something that I am really passionate about.

    I volunteer with Garden City Harvest, a non-profit in Missoula focused on education and food access, by giving field trips to elementary school students around one of the community farms that GCH has in Missoula. It has been so fun, and impactful, to spend time outside, on a farm with young students over the past year especially given the chaos and stress of the pandemic. Watching kids interact with each other and the fields full of vegetables has been a great way to really feel like I am part of the Missoula community as well as get to do something that I love! There is nothing better than watching a student taste a sweet salad turnip for the first time or hold a newly laid chicken egg, and I feel so grateful that I get to lead them through that experience.

    I have also spent time as a board member for Freedom Gardens, another non-profit working to educate students on food and farming and create access to fresh food. As a board member, it has been exciting to assist in decisions for this relatively new non-profit as they work to figure out how to best utilize a greenhouse and field space at an elementary school!

    Do you feel that the liberal arts education you received at St. Mike’s helped your abilities to communicate effectively or problem solve? How has a liberal arts education helped or hindered you on your career path or finding purpose in your life? My liberal arts education has immensely helped my communication and problem-solving abilities as well as set me on the path that I am now on. The interdisciplinary nature of SMC’s academic programs allows students to try out a wide variety of classes and degree paths while still allowing them to ensure that they are on an efficient path toward graduation.

    I loved being able to take classes across all of the academic programs and really have benefited from those experiences. I was an environmental studies major, but I took business, education, political science, and philosophy classes that all taught me how to think critically across disciplines and assisted in my ability to foster and find connections across people, beliefs, and disciplines. The field of environmental studies is not a siloed field, people from all different backgrounds and degree paths work in environmental studies and SMC’s liberal arts education prepared me to know how to work effectively with different people and specialties.

    I also spent a lot of time writing and practicing communication both on paper and in presentations or group projects and I am incredibly happy that the school focuses so much on those skills. Being an effective communicator is a skill that graduate programs and employers value highly, and if you have those skills, you are an asset already. As an 18-year-old coming to SMC, I had no idea what I wanted to do and if I had had to pick a program right off the bat, I am not sure where I would be. The fact that during my first two semesters at SMC I could focus on my liberal arts requirements and kind of try on different programs helped me find the right one.

    I happened to take a course with Richard Kujawa as well as one with Nat Lewis, and those two classes were really my first introduction to the environment and environmental studies. Without the time already worked into my degree to take new classes like that, I would not have found Environmental Studies and Human Geography and I don’t think that I would have just received a master’s in environmental studies. So much of a liberal arts degree is learning how to apply what you have learned, and I have realized that those skills are incredibly important in the ‘real world.’

    I also want to point out that SMC has a focus on experiential learning, which is unique. The experiences that I was able to take advantage of (internships, class field trips, college farms) really allowed me to find my path and practice the skills I was learning from my classes in real-world opportunities. Not only were there experiential opportunities, but the professors at SMC supported them, created them, and encouraged students to take advantage of them. I worked on restoration sites with Trevien Stanger, the farm with Kristyn, created case studies in my classes for other students to use, and traveled the world learning about sustainability with Jonathon Silverman. These opportunities to interact with professors out of the classroom are also such a highlight of my time at SMC and I did a lot of learning away from our books and walls.

    Do you recall when you first realized what your purpose or passion in life might be? This is a tough question! I am not sure that I have one moment to talk about here, but maybe a series of moments that lead to finding my passion. I think that I first realized I wanted to work in food systems and with food by taking Kristyn’s food systems class. I was learning so much about food and growing food that I had never known before and the opportunity to learn something new was really exciting. Then I was able to get an internship at the Intervale, research food security on campus, and work on the college farm. All of that not only allowed me to learn and experience new things, but actually feel like I was making a difference in the environment! I think in environmental studies some of the work we do is kind of doom and gloom, and I was feeling a little lost in how to make a positive change for the environment and people in the environment and food and farming allowed me to physically work towards making a difference and I became hooked. Being at the SMC Farm also allowed me to do some education with other students and younger students from the community and I thought, ‘hey that was kind of fun!’ Then I thought, Kristyn’s job is awesome ­­– what a dream that would be. And I’ve set out to work in farm-based education ever since.

    How did St. Mike’s nurture or inspire your sense of purpose? What has this sense meant to you and others around you? How has it shifted throughout your life and career so far? I think that St. Mike’s created the opportunity for me to find my sense of purpose and then feel supported in my community there to continue to pursue it and actively become passionate about it. I think that a lot of people do not have the chance and opportunity to find their purpose for a really long time, but St. Mike’s creates time for students to explore their interests and passions in a way that makes it easy to find what those purposes are.

    I also think that St. Mike’s has the connections that students need to explore different work, classes, and working with different groups of people. I think that I am still finding my purpose so I am not sure how it will all play out, but I do know that my time at St. Mike’s helped me become a passionate person who stands up for what I believe in and wants to work in a field I am passionate about. I know that that will carry me through life.

    Which of your accomplishments have made you most proud? I am really proud that I am pursuing my passions! It is sometimes hard to decide what you want to do when your friends are getting jobs in cities for corporations making great starting salaries and you are not, but I have to say I am incredibly happy in the field that I am in and the work that I have done to get here and the work experiences along the way. And I am proud of the positions that I am applying for and that I am doing something that I am passionate about and making a difference in the environment and hopefully someone’s life. I am proud that I am dedicated to this work and actively trying to better the world. I also just graduated with a masters so that feels great, too. I am proud of how hard I worked during the pandemic and moving across the country to make it happen!

    What has it meant to you to have a sense of purpose? What is the most important lesson you have learned? I think that a sense of purpose means that you have a direction or a path. I think that it means that you know the route that is going to take you to your goals and are actively finding ways to get down that path to your goal. I think that following your sense of purpose isn’t always a straight line and that’s okay! I think that a lot of what other people do is really linear when it comes to jobs and even life, but it’s a winding road and I have learned that it is okay.

    What part of the ‘Forward with Purpose’ strategic plan stands out to you as the best new ideas for the St. Mike’s community, going forward? What in the plan do you find most inspiring? I really love the “strengthened communities” idea. I think that it is so smart to show students the importance of connections and relationships, and this idea totally hits on that. I think that SMC is known for its community feel for sure, but it was really just talked about among the students and some faculty, but I love to see it as part of the strategic plan. I can think of the number of times that I have had to rely on my community to find a job or complete a project or that I have worked to strengthen a community through a project or study. I just think that in today’s world knowing that people and connections are what truly matters is vital.

    Is there anything you’d like to add about your experience at St. Mike’s and what it means for your life now? I loved being a Purple Knight! I met great people and made great memories. Without the connections I made with both the students and amazing faculty, I don’t think I would be on the path I am now. I appreciate every day the small liberal arts education I received and am thankful that I was able to pursue my passions on campus and that I had professors and mentors who pushed me towards my passions and still support me to this day! I have reached out several times to mentors from SMC and I have to say that the response is always immediate and helpful, and I am forever grateful for that. I was shaped by SMC and the area around the school, and I am so happy to be able to bring that with me wherever I go in life.