Environmental Sciences Spotlight: Deirdre An

Each month, the Environmental Sciences Academic Program highlights a current student who represent the diverse and involved student population within the program. This month, July, the spotlight focuses on, Deirdre An.

Deirdre An
Deirdre An

Name: Deirdre An             

Focal Area: Ethnobotany

Year: Junior

Hometown: Charlotte, NC

1. What lead you to select Environmental Sciences at NC State?

In high school, I watched a satirical spoof on global warming and climate change on South Park (Episode, Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow) and thought how silly it was. However, as I got more into the subject of climate change, I realized how many people have misconceptions on the subject, especially in regards in environmental studies. The more I engrossed myself into current events and scientific studies, the more passionate I became with the topic of Environmental Sciences. Suddenly, it was no longer about what was funny- but what was truly happening in the world.

I have to admit, I was also a little bit indecisive when it came to selecting my major. You see, although I had a general idea of what I wanted to do (it was something along the line of saving the world using the mighty powers of environmental sciences by combating pollution and stubborn lawmakers) I did not know how I was going to do this, or even what I wanted to focus on. Environmental Sciences was a broad subject and like any high schooler- I had broad interests from design to cheese making. After learning that North Carolina State University’s Environmental Science program offered the option of a focal area that was a “To be declared” option, I knew that it was okay to be indecisive for a while and learn what drives my passions before I settled down.

Another major deciding factor had to be the smaller community atmosphere that the program offered. Coming from a school where everyone knew everyone, a sense of community was something I had to have when I entered college. The Environmental Sciences program gave me that sense of community from the first day of class with all the students in the major to our weekly fireside chats where we meet to discuss with other students, faculty and staff about what interests us. I came into the program expecting to find a community of like-minded individuals, but instead, I found a family with everyone having their own special quirks.

2. What is your favorite aspect about the Environmental Science program?

One word: Connections. When I first entered the program, I found myself surrounded by a support group of other students, staff, and Environmental Science Ambassadors to help me transition into school. Throughout my time at NC State, I learned that people like to talk about what they’re passionate about. More importantly, I learned how to network and connect with those people to not only form professional mentorships that lead to internships and research, but friendships that will help you when you are in a difficult position. I do not know where I would be without Greg Wilson, my advisor who has guided me through the past two years, or my mentor, Dr. Katherine Winsett, who has mentored me and helped me decide between professional goals (both of whom, are in the Environmental Sciences!)

The Environmental Sciences program also has connections to many other faculty and staff members on campus from researchers to professors. More importantly, they have connections to internships or positions in leadership that you may be interested in. It was thanks to the Environmental Sciences newsletter that I was able to land an internship with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture working with officials with resource management. I even had the opportunity to design a logo for the department. The program also connected me to professors around NC State who in turn, led me to undergraduate research and my current position at Heifer International’s farm in Rutland, Massachusetts.

And of course, I had to connect with my fellow Environmental Science classmates. I just want to give a shout out to all the late night discussions, car rides, power lunches, hikes, EPA tours, free froyo girls nights, and walks across campus when the weather is either too hot, cold, wet, or humid.

3. What has been your favorite course at NC State?

I would first and foremost like to apologize to ENG 333 (Scientific and Technical Writing), FL 219 (Intro to Non-western Literature), and PB 200 (Plant Biology), because although all of 3 have made waking up at the crack of dawn worth it, I have to say STS 323- World Populations and Food Prospects takes the prize of my favorite class.

Dr. Bob Patterson will inspire you to seek an end to the injustices of the world and evaluate every key detailed factor of an issue before making a decision. The course catalog will say that STS 323 is an “Examination of the dynamics of population size and food needs, production, distribution and utilization” but it is truly more than just that.

Through one semester, you will find yourself lost in the difficult stories of Dr. Patterson and inspired by the work that he tells through his own anecdotes, photos, and guest lecturers. I was interested in the way agriculture connected the world before, and I was aware of some of the injustices faced in the world in regards to hunger and poverty, but I was not sure of whether or not how or what I could do to help. In one semester you will learn key ideas like “working with and not for communities” as well as using interdisciplinary solutions to solve complex problems. This class left me with resounding thoughts and ideas to not only seek to understanding critical issues regarding a growing population and its important dependence on food and agriculture, but to also contribute my service where needed.

Through the fifteen hour service requirement, I found nonprofits I could work with to develop my interest in sustainable agriculture. I also found time to reflect on my personal goals and ideals. I decided ultimately that I was not someone who would work in an office all day, instead I wanted to work on the field with sustainable development and education. Dr. Patterson encouraged me to apply for a summer position at Heifer International, and 1 month in, I could not be happier I am here not only working with a nonprofit that helps both on the local and international scale, but to be with a community that values sustainable agriculture.

Before this class, I often asked myself, “Deirdre, what are you doing with your life, what are you going to be when you grow up?”

Now, I still ask myself what I am doing with my life- that hasn’t changed at all, except now instead of asking what I want to be, I ask how I want to help the world.

4. How did you select your focal area?

I bounced around for a while. It was originally engineering before I learned I did not enjoy building things. Then it was graphic communications before I learned I did not like working that intensively with computers. I pondered ecology and sustainability for a while before I realized it was not particularly suited for me. I would like to thank my advisor for bearing with me throughout every few months of transitions.

Due to my current double majoring in Environmental Sciences and Plant Biology, I have a little flexibility with some of the courses that overlap. While it is certainly true that plants are in the science aspect environment, I would also like to say that they contribute greatly to the sociological aspect of Environmental Sciences as well. The part that interests me most about plants is the latter of the two aspects, so after a lot more changes, my focal area in ethnobotany.

Although I love talking botanical jargon to my friends in engineering and the arts, I find my passions in sociology and communication something that just has not left me since I have started college. Even though I enjoyed all my lab sessions in all my science classes, I found the discussions on how agriculture influences culture something that sparks an internal excitement no number of polymerase chain reaction tests or dissections can compare to.

5. What is something you wish someone had told you when you were a freshman?

It is okay to say “no.”

The parent version of the conversation that discusses the above statement probably involves bad influences such as underage drinking or illegal drugs.

I am not going to give you that talk. Instead I will give you the talk about saying “no” to lifestyle choices that are related to academics and extracurriculars.

You see, there is a wonderful time in the first weeks of college where you are bombarded by eager upperclassmen trying to expand their organizations and clubs. It is a magical time of free pens and koozies that will sit in your dorm room for the next year until your parents inevitably pack it in a the garage with the collection of Frisbees and waterbottles when you move your stuff back in May. You will also start receiving more emails than you can read, and before long, you feel obligated to attend all the club meetings and commit to all the events happening that your new friends are going to.

It is all fun for the first few weeks, but as responsibilities build academically and socially, it is hard to keep up with going to a movie night every night with your roommates or attending 5 meetings for clubs in a span of 3 days. You will hit hurtles such as your first all-nighter, or a difficult responsibility in your sorority/ fraternity/ organization, or even the realization that your major/ focal area was not what you expected.

It is okay to say “no.”

Your happiness and mental health value much more than the expectations of others. I especially encourage you to seek help from the counseling services, who will work with you to understand your identity. Talk to your professors and advisors on what is working and what is not working, and finally- do not feel obliged to stay committed to something if you do not see it benefiting you.

6. What is your favorite thing to do outside of the classroom?

I love photography and working with the contrast of nature and man-made structures. My favorite series involved a set of abandoned houses- with quite a few occupied by no one other than broken doll figurines.

When I’m not scaring people with photos that would make a good horror movie, I am hiking, running on trails, and feeding goats banana peels.

Goats love banana peels.