Sustainability Spotlight: Ashley Fitzpatrick

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Ashley Fitzpatrick is a sophomore at Martel studying Environmental Science and Anthropology. Starting summer 2019 she began interning with the sustainability department to assess the logistics of potential food waste composting for Rice. She is the President of the Rice Environmental Society, the Chair of the Environmental Committee at Martel, the outgoing Student Association Senator for Martel, and a member of the Student Association’s Environmental Committee. We met with Ashley to discuss her plans for the Rice Environmental Society, composting, “brain cakes”, and much more.

Question: How did you first become interested in environmental issues?

My interest in environmental studies began in high school when I took AP Environmental Science. It was my teacher and mentor for this course, Jamie Biel, who inspired me to pursue an education dedicated to environmental issues. When Biel taught, I could feel her passion and dedication and she planted those same feelings within me. I learned from Biel that to inspire and enact change in a community, at any scale, takes intense motivation and commitment. Since this time, my commitment to environmental justice and climate change solutions has only grown, and I am grateful to have a strong female role model in my life to guide me as I continue down this path.

Question: Tell us about your decision to pair Anthropology and Environmental Science as majors at Rice.

Due to the anthropogenic nature of climate change, I felt my studies of the environment would be incomplete without an understanding of human cultures and histories. Therefore, I decided to combine my studies in Environmental Science with Anthropology in order to develop an interdisciplinary perspective on climate change. Further, the consequences of climate change manifest differently in different locations and require unique, targeted solutions. Anthropology provides a framework for regional studies that will prove to be very useful when tackling environmental issues.

Question: As the incoming president of the Rice Environmental Society, what are your priorities for the coming academic year?

This year I hope to facilitate greater collaboration between Rice’s many environmental clubs and organizations. I would like to see us shift our focus toward creating tangible changes within Rice and the greater Houston community. I envision this to look like developing partnerships with Houston organizations, Houston schools, or other Rice departments. For example, I have previously worked with a Houston food bank to plant an on-site garden to provide fresh produce to their visitors. Additionally, the SA Environmental Committee succeeded in passing a piece of legislation outlining student sustainability values and generated a 3-year sustainability plan. I would like for RES to use these sustainability goals to inform our projects and actions this coming year.

Question: You helped to develop Fondren Library’s sustainability plan through their Fellows program. Tell us about the plan, and what you learned from the process for creating it.

Our sustainability plan evolved from the American Library Association’s call to incorporate sustainability as a core library value and in response to student demands for Rice to adopt more sustainable practices. Through collaboration with students and library staff, we created a plan suited to the unique needs of Rice and Fondren. Fondren is one of the most trafficked buildings on campus, making it the prime location to pilot a departmental sustainability program. To implement the goals of our plan, I have been made Fondren’s Departmental EcoRep and I will work with a “green team” to set priorities and take action. This process has required a significant amount of communication, collaboration, and compromise and has provided me with the opportunity to improve my research and leadership skills.

Question: One of your primary campus environmental projects has been to work on composting. Where did your passion for composting come from? What is your current involvement on this project?

I would say my passion lies more in helping Rice attain carbon neutrality and net zero waste status, and it happens that composting is a step to achieving these goals. I first noticed that Rice was not composting when I arrived on campus the summer before my freshman year for RESP. I had a lot of knowledge on composting already as I had recently assisted my high school in implementing a program. I felt I was well positioned to share this knowledge with Rice and work to create a program that would best work for our campus. After nearly two years at Rice and working on this project, I am excited to say that we have hit the implementation stage. Moving forward, I will continue to develop instructional materials for students and the Rice community as we expand our program throughout campus. My main goal at this point is to raise awareness as to why we are composting and to bring greater visibility to Rice’s sustainability goals.

Question: In addition to your project work and your various leadership positions, you also devote time to teaching and mentoring. Tell us about that experience.

I find that teaching and mentoring others based on my own knowledge and experiences is an incredibly rewarding process. This year I had the privilege of being elected Martel’s SA Senator and was given the opportunity to mentor three new students. I took a holistic approach to mentoring and assisted my students not only with their SA projects, but also with their academic and personal lives more broadly. I value balance in my life, and I sought to teach my new students about what balance in their own lives could like. Before my time at Rice, I worked with many elementary schools though peer leadership programs and also with teachers more directly to develop hands-on learning experiences for students in environmental science. I am currently looking for ways to connect with Houston schools to engage in similar activities.

Question: When you need to relax, do you have particular hobbies that you turn to?

I try to go to yoga around twice a week and find that this allows me to be present and mindful away from the stress of academics. I also love to bake and find it to be a great way to relieve stress. Whenever I go home, my mom and I will often spend hours baking. One of my favorite things to make is sugar cookies. We make sugar cookies for holidays or special occasions and it is often a big event with all our neighbors. My mom and I will make the cookies in themed shapes and prep icing of all colors then we invite everyone over to spend a few hours decorating. I will then bring some of these cookies to a local children’s home to share holiday spirit and joy with the kids. On rare occasions I will also create some more elaborate cakes. For example, I once made a model brain out of cake for a psychology project. Other than yoga and baking, I enjoy leisure reading and spending time with my family, friends, and pets.

Question: Finally, what do you hope to do after you graduate from Rice?

After I graduate, I plan to pursue a PhD in environmental studies. At present, my goal is to be a research professor at a university. This position would provide me with the opportunity to continue my own education through research and collaboration while also educating students and other members of the community.