Sustainability Spotlight: Geneva Vest, ACSEM intern

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We met with Geneva Vest (Hanszen '17) to talk about her passion for the outdoors as well as her study abroad experience.

Where are you from and what is your major?
Geneva Vest: I’m from Sugar Land, a suburb of Houston, and am majoring in Sociology.

Did you spend a lot of time outdoors as a kid?
GV: Yes! I was lucky enough to have a dad and brother who took me on a lot of camping trips to state parks. Some of my favorite childhood memories involve long car rides, tree climbing, and Texas rivers.

Did spending time outdoors influence your environmental interests?
GV: Definitely. I wouldn’t care about the environment nearly as much if I didn’t know how beautiful and fun it is!

Do you still get to spend time outdoors as a Rice student?
GV: Yes! I’m actually a R.O.P.E. leader at the Recreation Center. I get to take groups of students camping, hiking, and on other activities around the state. One of my favorite trips is the Enchanted Rock climbing trip every midterm recess.

How have your environmental interests evolved while you’ve been at Rice?
GV: My interests have changed a lot. I came in as an ecology and evolutionary biology (EBIO) major, thinking the best way for me to save the environment, as cliché as that sounds, would be to study its biological processes. And while that field is indeed really important, I discovered that it’s not where my expertise lies. Sophomore year, I sort of stumbled into sociology after EBIO and I ended up loving it. I feel like it’s the only major that teaches its students how to be good humans. I have this broader framework of sociology and good citizenship, and from there I have focused on sustainable living. As a scientist, I found myself missing that human component.

What has been your favorite environmental course taken at Rice?
GV: I’m really not trying to kiss up to my boss but probably the one Professor Johnson co-taught with Rives Taylor--Case Studies in Sustainable Design. It was my first exposure to architecture as a tool for social change, or design in general. I got to work with a couple of really talented architecture students studying inefficiencies in Rice’s campus and proposing solutions. It was a great introduction to sustainable design, and I’ve been learning about it ever since.

You led a project to develop a new outdoor study space at Rice. Tell us about that project and what motivated you to do it.
GV: I would love to! I kept getting annoyed by how uninviting the outdoor work areas on campus were. I was either uncomfortable or distracted or something would smell weird if I wanted to work outside on a nice day, which is a shame because Houston can be beautiful if you let it! I brought this up in Fall 2015 with a few of my friends in architecture--Kajal Patel, Toshiki Niimi, and Mitch Mackowiak--and we decided to host that semester’s architecture mini-charrette which is basically a design competition coordinated by Rice students for Rice students. We picked the site between the Humanities Building and Fondren Library and tortured ourselves over the exact question we wanted to ask the competitors. It ended up being something like “design an outdoor space that catalyzes new ways of learning.” The winning design is called The Hangout which is an installation of hammocks the user can arrange according to their needs in that space. What I love about this design is that it directs the user’s attention to the cantilevering trees. I hope it gets the user thinking about their built and natural environment a bit more. Currently, we are in the process of fund-raising and getting all the moving parts, both literally and figuratively, organized. Check out our website if you’re interested in getting involved or donating!

You recently returned from a semester study abroad experience. Where did you go, what did you study, and what did you learn on the trip?
GV: I spent a month in Ahmedabad, India; São Paulo, Brazil; and Cape Town, South Africa on a program comparing urban issues like sustainable development, social justice and economic systems. I learned so much; it’s really unbelievable. The best way to explain it is a new perspective I have to interpret people, places and politics (that’s the title of my program), which is more inclusive of marginalized voices. To give you an example, I conducted a semester-long independent research project critiquing several parks in each city in terms of their social equity. That’s an example of my two core values intersecting: sustainability and social justice. Being in these spaces set the foundation for me to be an ally.

You are a rising senior. What do you plan to do after graduation?
GV: Ha! All I want is to not start a career and to finally move out of Texas. I just feel like the years after graduation are so terrifyingly and wonderfully vague and I’m not ready to force meaning onto my life just yet. This is silly but my favorite job is still my first one at a garden center in rural Texas. Why not just do something like that for a little while? I have so much more learning to do before narrowing my path to a specific job and I don’t think that can happen in a classroom or in an office. I’ll do the whole grad school thing once the world has proven to me that I really am unskilled labor. Right now it looks like a Masters in Architecture, but we’ll see! I’m just looking for a new experience, really. If I had to pick a career right now, I would honestly be thrilled to work in urban design. But I want to see firsthand all the ways to improve cities first!