Environmental Studies

Sarah Huang

Alumnus heads to Purdue University to study Native Alaskan foodways. 

Class Year

2014

Major(s)

Environmental Studies and Sociology

Current Position

Masters Student

Location

West Lafayette, Indiana

Graduate School & Degree

Purdue University, Masters of Cultural Anthropology

About

Having spent my senior summer in Alaska and focused my senior research on Alaskan peoples’ interactions with the environment, I was thoroughly excited about the opportunity to study the foodways of native peoples in Alaska. Since graduating from Ursinus in May 2015, I’ve spent the summer above the Arctic Circle and the Fall surrounded by the cornfields of Indiana. In both instances, I’ve been faced with new learning opportunities and challenges. In Alaska, I learned about the hunting and food provisioning techniques of Inuits people. I learned how to butcher a Canada goose and participated in bearded seal hunts. As a research assistant for an NSF-funded project overeen by my thesis advisor Dr. Laura Zanotti, I lived with and interviewed women and men about their roles in the community in relation to environmental changes, subsistence activities, and their understanding or stories of strength, leadership and healing. In Indiana, I am working on the intellectual underpinnings of my own research that will seek to understand the strengthening of family and community through subsistence hunting and whaling in Arctic communities, while placing these dynamics into the context of the stress of oil and gas development in the region.

Impact of Ursinus

I came into Ursinus with the intent of majoring in Pre-Med and biology. After taking ENV-100 with Dr. Wallace, I realized that a lot of the things that I care about in my life were inherently linked to the environment and people everywhere. This changed my perspective on the way that I understood my place in the world. I particularly appreciated the focus of the Environmental Studies curriculum, classes, and professors in shaping discussions about environmental issues toward understanding the complexity of these issues as well as how closely tied they are to politics, economics, and social justice. I was constantly being pushed to engage in conversations that forced me to think more critically about these links. It was also in these conversations that I discovered how much the simple act of eating food can mean so much. 

My interest in food systems really grew from all facets of my life. I started the Real Food Challenge campaign on campus, I took classes dealing with food from a community systems perspective to bioengineering, I volunteered at Urban Tree Connection helping rebuild an urban food system, and lastly I spent many days out on the Ursinus farm. I was either sitting with the chickens or helping the Farm Director. All of these different opportunities to engage with my passion for food studies really opened my eyes to the breadth of work that could be done in this area. I think a lot of the encouragement that I received from my professors was from watching them tirelessly work on their own research, their classes, and their engagement in community efforts while always having time for us, their students. Their passion really strengthened my own and led me to pursue projects and issues that were more complex. 

The engagement with my professors both within the department and outside the department empowered me to feel as if I could make a change in the way people can come to understand environmental issues, specifically food security. My education and the opportunities that were provided to me: scholarships, internships, and independent research opened so many doors to my future, particularly the current Graduate position that I hold at Purdue University. And I still carry my education from Ursinus proudly. 

Piece of Advice

My advice for students is to let your guard down and do something that surprises yourself. There are so many opportunities at Ursinus for you to engage with socially, academically, and professionally, and I encourage you to take full responsibility in taking advantage of as many of those opportunities as possible. I also highly recommend just popping into any of your professors’ offices and talking with them. It was the relationships that I formed with my professors that has truly gotten me to where I am today. I still reach out to them for advice on my current research projects and to just catch up. Finally, enjoy the beauty that is Ursinus, whatever that may mean to you.