By Kelsi Stubblefield Lewis, intern with the Division of Sustainability, Fall 2018
Years ago, a little girl with a messy ponytail trekked through the woods with her friends, each of them clutching a trash bag in one hand. As they walked with their moms, the girls chatted and casually picked up abandoned cups, cans, and bottles. Eventually the trees grew sparse, and as the lake’s edge got closer the girls began to find empty bait boxes and sunscreen bottles, as well.
It was “Lake Cleanup Day,” an annual tradition that everyone took very seriously, but none more so than the girl with the ponytail. When the moms would glance away, they would turn back to see that she had run off to check the edges of their route or had fallen behind combing through shrubs making sure that they had found all the trash. At the end of the day, the girl with the ponytail turned in her big bag of litter to the collection table with an equally big grin.
On the drive home, she looked out the window at the sparkling lake and the towering trees. She thought about the deer, the foxes, and the fish that lived there. She thought about the families that hiked, swam, and fished there, too. She liked to think that because of something she had done, life was a little bit better for all of them. She felt good. She felt like Superwoman.
My dad and I hiking through the "Garden of the Gods" in Illinois
That little girl in the ponytail grew up in a small town next to that lake and those trees. She went to high school and joined the Outdoorsmen’s Club, where she learned how to better protect the nature that was very much still a part of her. As she got older, the girl found a new passion in reading and writing. Suddenly, her weekends were filled with not only family hikes, but with books and stories, as well.
When she turned eighteen, the girl decided that she wanted to move to Nashville and study writing at Lipscomb University.
That girl was me! I did move to Nashville in 2015, and continued my journey to find “green” again.
As an English major, I was a student with a serious love of language, both reading it and composing it. I loved my classes and took pride in my work, but throughout my time at Lipscomb, I couldn’t help feeling like something was missing. When I thought about the future, or when I tried to picture what I wanted to do with my life, it was as if the picture wouldn’t quite come into focus, like one, tiny dial hadn’t quite clicked into place.
I fought with this feeling until last year, my junior year of college, when I walked in to one of my general education classes. As I sat down, our professor announced that a guest speaker would be presenting that day.
The speaker announced that she was a professor from our university’s Department of Environmental Sustainability. She had come that day to tell us about some exciting new ways that people were saving our planet’s resources. As she spoke, I hung on to every word. She said that our waters, our air, our land, and our trees were in danger, but there were so many amazing things that people were doing to help, and we could do them, too. For a moment, I was the little girl with the messy ponytail again.
A few days later, I declared my minor in Environmental Sustainability, and something (that felt a little like a tiny dial) clicked into place.
Since that click, I have had some incredible opportunities. I have studied environmental law, as well as many sustainable practices in the areas of agriculture, food, energy, and transportation. I found myself particularly interested in a sustainable agriculture practice called silvopasture, and I was able to present research on it at Lipscomb University’s Student Scholars Symposium this past spring.
My Scholars Symposium poster presentation on silvopasture, an agricultural practice that combines forestry and grazing
I have also worked with Lipscomb’s chapter of The Food Recovery Network, where we take leftover food from our university’s cafeteria and donate it to local nonprofits. I feel fortunate to have also had the opportunity to intern with The Nashville Food Project and to currently be interning with Socket, the Metro Department of General Services’ sustainability outreach program.
Me cutting fruit in the prep room at The Nashville Food Project
When I think about all of these opportunities and how they have shaped me, I am always humbled to trace it back to that one small moment in class.
Looking towards the future, there are still no specifics, but what I do know is that the picture of my future, much like the picture of my past, is green. What I do know is that I want to spend my life doing something akin to picking up trash from my hometown lake; I want to do something that improves life for others in this world.
I’ve also come to accept that I’ll never save the world on my own. I’ll never be Superwoman, but that little girl in the messy ponytail still lives in me, and she’ll never stop trying.