Students talk with peers about a moment of resilience or resourcefulness represented in a personal photo.
If you want students to...:
- Explore identity and purpose through narrative
- Identify and articulate learning moments
Bring an image that represents a specific time when you have had to use resilience, resourcefulness or strength. In small groups, talk about the photo, and then write about a specific moment.
Photos (students identify personal photos ahead of time); writing materials
Student Work Examples:
Sidney Bobrow ‘ 19
Over the summer, I worked as an intern in the Giving Garden (GG) at Grow Food Northampton! (GFN), a local non-profit based in Florence, MA that strives to promote food security while advancing sustainable agriculture in the Northampton, MA area. While working in the GG, I learned about the essential steps in the food system cycle: prepping beds, planting seeds, irrigating, weeding, caring for, and of course, the most exciting reward, harvesting.
One day early on in my internship when the sun was beaming, my supervisor taught me how to transplant baby tomato plants and we planted into 9 50-foot compost-rich beds in total. I worked with these tomatoes and watched them grow and thrive from foot-tall height to their 7-foot tall growth. When the plants started to lean over—their leader branches laden with unripe fruit—we staked and strung them up for support. Tomatoes are special—they need careful attention and care. The plants are extremely susceptible to disease, especially if the plants are wet from a rainy day or the morning dew.
I worked with GFN for 3 months and it wasn’t until nearly 2 months in until the tomatoes were FINALLY ready to harvest!!! I was so excited to see the vibrant beds of bright, round, and juicy, Early Girl and Chef’s Choice Orange varieties fill the Garden with color. The wait was all the more rewarding. I helped harvest and deliver the crates of tomatoes to local food pantries and soup kitchens, all of whom were also excitedly anticipating the arrival of tomatoes.
The most rewarding part of this particular experience was the feedback that GFN’s network partners, such as MANNA soup kitchen in Northampton, MA, shared photos with us of how Chef Lee used the donated produce in the community meal. Some weeks the juicy tomatoes would simply be in salads or on BLTs and other times in freshly-made marinara sauce or salsa. These community meals highlighted one of the most fulfilling moments of my summer internship.
With this reward also came a challenge. I remember clearly about halfway through the season that once the tomato plants began to grow taller and needed pruning, my supervisor taught me the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomato plant varieties. We only had to prune the indeterminate varieties, which were 4 out of the 9 50-foot long beds. Essentially, pruning is to remove excess vines (called suckers, since these new vines are literally sucking energy from fruit-producing vines) that start to form where the leaf meets the first leader.
I thought I had clearly understood the concept, but I had pruned about an entire bed before my supervisor realized that instead of clipping the suckers I had actually been removing an essential first leader from the top of every plant. Yikes! This just meant that I was putting the plant into energy overdrive to save its existing fruits and encouraging them to ripen without its original first leading leaf stalk.
Fortunately, this wasn’t the end of the world, but I felt extremely awful that I had botched part of the GG’s tomato production, which we had been excitedly anticipating since May. My supervisor explained that we could wait for new suckers to appear and have them stand in as an alternative first leader leaf. This worked as a Band-Aid to the situation, but in the future I always asked for a recap of tomato pruning before we began and had my supervisor evaluate a couple of plants with me before I finished the row on my own.
Throughout my internship I tapped into each of the six essential capacities for Smith students. As I worked hard in the GG I honed resilience and utilized resourcefulness, I used critical and analytical thinking when helping my supervisor with garden planning and envisioning the future of GFN’s role in the greater Northampton area community, and was self-aware as both a learner and a worker in my position.
I see myself fighting for food justice in the long run while continuing my studies at Smith and in my life after Smith. While learning about small-scale organic farming has been experiential and informative, I also realize that it is physically demanding, and while I have enjoyed it, my goals have shifted to wanting to participate at more of a distribution and administrative level. My experience at GFN will inform my future studies at Smith because I now have localized knowledge of organizations who also share a vision to end food insecurity in our communities. I want to continue supporting GFN’s mission while I continue my studies at Smith and I think that this internship marked the beginning of a wonderful partnership.
Hazel Edwards ‘19
This past summer was my fourth year working as a “teacher naturalist” at farming and nature-based summer camp called Drumlin Farm. Drumlin Farm is an educational farm in Lincoln, MA run by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. I started going to camp at Drumlin Farm when I was five years old, and my participation in the program definitely played a role in shaping my life trajectory, academic and otherwise. At Drumlin, among other places, I learned the joy of harvesting my own food right out of the field. I learned that working can be fun, and, more specifically, that there are few things more satisfying than freeing a bed of carrots from the tyranny of crabgrass and purslane weeds. (And then snacking on a few of those carrots out in the field, and cooking up the rest of them in a pan with butter and a little maple syrup).
This past summer I was placed in charge of a group of eleven and twelve-year-olds called the “Farm Apprentices.” The curriculum is centered around sustainable food and farming; the campers are, as it were, “Apprentices” at Drumlin’s “beyond organic” vegetable CSA. I was nervous to be working with middle schoolers; I had loved working with much younger children in past years, but I was intimidated to have campers who were old enough to understand sarcasm. Along with two co-counselors, I was responsible for writing and collecting curriculum, teaching lessons about food and farming (and the way farming relates to the surrounding ecosystems), and generally managing and supporting a group of twenty one middle schoolers. It was no easy task (actually, an agglomeration of many tasks), but I often left work covered in dirt and exhilarated (and sometimes frustrated)
The Apprentices start every morning by working in the CSA fields; with the help of their counselors (me), they are responsible for taking care of a small section of the field. The first week of two-week session culminates in a field trip to Blue Heron Farm, a small organic farm down the street that a woman named Ellery runs single handedly. Ellery always meets our group with a genuine smile and a formidable farm task. One visit, she gave us the task of harvesting a season’s worth of heirloom garlic. Instead of just working out in the sun for 45 minutes (as they had done every morning during their time at camp), the Apprentices worked for hours, yanking up garlic plants by the handful, carefully placing the fragrant bulbs into trays to dry, and ferrying the trays to a barn on the other side of the farm. The work was satisfying and exhausting. As we worked, I talked with my campers about the amount of work that goes into growing all of the food that we eat. Who picked the garlic, we wondered, that shows up in the produce section of the local grocery store? How long would it have taken Ellery to harvest the garlic without the help of twenty one enthusiastic preteens?
On the last day of that session, the camp group sat in a circle as each camper shared their “rose,” or their favorite camp moment. One camper volunteered that her rose was “seeing Ellery’s face after we helped harvest all of that garlic. I remember smiling to myself, proud that this eleven year old had been so moved by this experience of engaging with the food system.
My experience working at Drumlin Farm has definitely helped me build upon the “essential Smith capacities” in ways that aren’t possible by just going to class. For me, working as a camp counselor seems to be the utmost exercise in “resilience and resourcefulness:” each day stretched my executive functioning skills as I juggled, with varying degrees of success, teaching lessons, managing logistics, and anticipating and responding to the needs of twenty-one different campers. My work also stretched my “ability to draw upon and convey knowledge;” My co-counselors and I continually searched for ways to effectively present our knowledge of food systems and sustainability to a middle-school audience. “Creativity, curiosity, & innovation” are ever present and necessary when working with kids; unexpected situations appear constantly, and I was always trying to think up new lessons and activities, or new ways to teach a lesson.
Although harvesting garlic with middle schoolers is a very different experience from sitting in class at Smith, I have been seeing more and more connections between my academic work and my experience working at Drumlin Farm. As a workplace, Drumlin Farm embodies a lot of ideas that I have learned about in my environmental science classes, both related to food and more generally. The sanctuary’s “beyond organic” farm is run using a CSA (community-supported agriculture) model. The sanctuary also includes a large amount of protected land, which relates to my biology/ ecology and landscape studies classes. The newer buildings on the property are built according to sustainable design metrics.
Drumlin Farm is dear to my heart, but I have recently been thinking more critically about the organization. I love spending all summer digging in the dirt with kids, but I realize that only certain kids have access to programs like Drumlin Farm camp. One one hand, nothing makes me happier than hearing my campers say that they want to be climate scientists or organic farmers when they grow up. On the other hand, I realize that many of the kids who I work with are at camp because their (mostly white and middle or upper-middle class parents) consciously decided to send them to farm camp, just as my parents did when I was a child. It feels good to work within the community where I grew up, but as I pursue work in the realm of food/ environmental education when I graduate from Smith, and I plan to keep asking questions about who has access to the knowledge I am teaching.
Zoe Merrel ‘19
This summer, I was working as a field assistant on a research project regarding forest succession. It was incredible to see the ecological principles that I’ve learned about in so many of my classes playing out right before my eyes. I had the opportunity to learn nearly every herbaceous and woody plant species in the area, as well as become familiar with field techniques. Although my team was very well-prepared for the rigorous work and challenging conditions, we often had to adjust our approaches as we went.
During my team’s fieldwork surveying plant communities, we often encountered plants that we couldn’t identify. When this happened, we would theorize with each other about its identity, with varying degrees of certainty, before cutting off a leaf or branch to take as a sample. Then, when we returned home each afternoon, we would pore over field guides to positively identify our acquisitions. One day when we got back to the house and looked up one of the unknown plants, we realized it was a fairly rare species. We felt terrible for having picked it, but there was nothing we could do but put it in our herbarium. So, sitting reverently on the porch of the house, we carefully arranged the leaves between sheets of newspaper and pressed them with the quiet finality of a burial. We were comforted to know that the information we had gathered could potentially help conservation efforts for the species. From there on out, whenever we encountered an unknown plant that was not abundant in the plot, we took careful photos instead of taking a sample, so that the plants could grow undisturbed.
Emily Whittier ‘19
The list sat in front of me, a sea of yellow highlighted excel boxes with a glaring white space near the top. Robinson Elementary, 95% eligible for free and reduced lunch. FRL percentages were the most accessible method we had of gauging poverty in a given school. Not a holistic approach, of course, but something that had initiated many connections since November. It was now spring, and the end of the elementary school year loomed. On standardized-test terms, Robinson was one of the lowest-performing schools in Washington state. The population was largely comprised of English Language learners, so on top of learning typical, Common-Core arithmetic and spelling, the dynamic students were faced with learning an entirely new culture and language and were still being held to specific age standards. It’s difficult to impose even a well-intentioned program into an already overwhelmed environment, and I learned early on to stress how few resources we would need to be able to bring the program to each school.
Several months ago, my program began in Pasco, Washington. I was working as an AmeriCorps member, and my role was to implement and run a Tri-Cities version of Second Harvest of Spokane’s “School Mobile Food Bank Program” (SMFB). I had made my way into several of the schools in the Tri-Cities and the surrounding areas, coordinating events with the administration there and bringing a truckload of food for the families to bring home. Part of the goal of the program was to de-stigmatize emergency food. SMFBs focused on fresh produce, and we asked for minimal personal information from the recipients. No proof of income, no driver’s license. We asked every school we went to to provide two key resources: Tables and volunteers. I would work with any volunteers. We had students, teachers, the PTA, even an older-sibling’s high school sports team could help. The reasoning behind this was twofold: Practically, we couldn’t provide all of the manpower we needed. Beyond that, though, we didn’t want to come into a school as strangers, give them food, and leave. This was a community event, which helped normalize taking the food.
Like Robinson, many of the schools were so overwhelmed that it was hard for administration to conceptualize adding the program to any of their 12-hour days. As a result, I often had to try multiple times or multiple people to make connection with the school. I had a key contact in the district who proved indispensable to getting in touch with the schools. I was invited to district meetings and special events, and she liked to keep me aware of what unique events were happening in the community. One day, she mentioned a day where volunteers were needed at Robinson to read with the second-grade class. I had an idea.
A week later, I found myself spending the morning reading with a table full of 9-year olds. As I was leaving, I thought it was a great opportunity to try to speak with the principal or counselor: If you can put a face to a voicemail, it’s harder to skip over it. I asked at the front desk and the principal was unavailable, but as the receptionist clicked away at her computer, preparing to take a note for me, a blond head poked out around the corner. “Hi! I’m Katie. I’m the principal’s intern. Can I help you?”
I didn’t know it at that moment, but Katie would be the reason that Robinson Elementary partnered with the School Mobile Food Bank. She radiated with excitement as I told her about the program, and she promised to bring it up to the principal immediately. Weeks later, we distributed over two thousand pounds of food to about 100 families. There wasn’t a loaf of bread left over: We looked at the sign-in sheet numbers, noted all of the big families, and planned to bring more next time.
Introducing the program to Robinson was a success owed to many factors. Stubborn determination to reach a goal helped, but the important influences were owed to communication with people more familiar with the schools, innovative ways to get involved in the community I was trying to serve, and going directly to the source to find the resources I needed–I would have never reached Katie on the phone, as I wouldn’t have even known to ask.
Maggie Painter ‘18
This past summer, I worked as a Summit Steward in Acadia National Park. My job as an outdoor educator was to hike the trails of Acadia, building rock cairns (Acadia’s trail markers), dismantling human-made rock sculptures, and talking to visitors about Leave No Trace principles and the impacts of climate change on Acadia’s natural resource.
A beautiful July afternoon I come upon someone building a rock stack near the summit of a mountain. I walk toward them, assessing the situation: the concentration, the careful placement of rocks – it’s clear they had put a lot of effort into this granite creation. Though I admired their creativity, I began to explain to them the importance of cairns in Acadia, that they are only built by Summit Stewards (such as myself) to mark the way of trails, and to assure that visitors don’t get lost.
He exclaimed with angry fervor that this was absurd. Because this was a national park, he should be able to do whatever he wants, especially build innocent rock stacks. Though taken aback by his outburst, I persisted and talked to him about how these cairns could impact others. Rock stacks and fake cairns often lead people off trail, and cause the building of more and more until they completely obliterate the natural beauty of a scenic mountain view. They also cause the uprooting of rocks from the ground, causing soil erosion and plant loss over time.
After talked through all this, the man still seemed disgruntled, so I turned instead to the view. “Look at this beautiful place – the mountains, the ocean, the fresh clean air – it’s our duty as visitors to this place to protect it for years to come, so everyone will be able to enjoy it. Building cairns may be fun, but if everyone did it, can you imagine what it would do to the beauty of this place?” The man paused and looked out at the truly awesome vista, and nodded.
As I moved on up the trail, I wondered if I had completely reached him. One of the struggles of this job was to educate people who would rather not be educated, and to enforce rules that people would rather not follow. I encountered many challenging visitors over the course of the summer, and there was plenty of opportunity for education. Though the man I discussed above didn’t explicitly say that he would work to remember what I had told him, I hope that our moment on the mountain will serve as a positive reminder to leave no trace and to protect our environment as best we can. Interactions like this both challenged me to connect with argumentative people, and motivated me to become a better listener and teacher.
Alexandra Davis ‘18
I spent this past summer glued to my laptop, stuck to a swivel chair in the basement of a place called CEEDS—Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability. There was a lot of heavy clacking of keys as I worked on imagining, prototyping and designing a Sustainable Office Certification program for Smith. This research experience had me emailing, calling up and talking with the sustainability directors of colleges and universities across the nation, from Boston University, Tufts, Harvard, Arizona State, and Colby College, to find out more about what worked and what hadn’t in regard to each of their green office programs. For several endless weeks I was taking extensive notes and doing intense Googling to help me dream up the ideal program.
Frustrated, I plugged away at Google Surveys— not enough color options and Qualtrics— their interface looked like the first iteration of the Mac computer— grey, pixelated and sluggish with calculations. I was designing a program intended for all of Smith staff and faculty and Survey Monkey was only going to let me send my survey to 10 lucky individuals— absolutely bananas! Instead I settled on Excel, a program with the capabilities of an iron horse. There was only one problem with this shiny work horse: I didn’t know how to code it.
I had a fabulous idea to create a self-calculating spreadsheet. Color coded by rank, it would feature a checklist across six different categories: energy, waste minimization, recycling, green meetings, purchasing and culture and learning, which I felt captured the essence of sustainability at Smith.
I spent hours upon hours toiling over what became a giant green and yellow spreadsheet. I met with the Office of Disability Services to ensure that the spreadsheet would be accessible and that the colors would not be too jarring, and I spoke with Information Technology Services to make sure that all of my computer energy saving goals were in line with Smith policies. I had a program composed of a tiered checklist with tasks ranked at Green, Silver and Gold levels which ranged from logging off computers at the end of each day and using reusable drink ware in the office, to requiring each office to have recycling bins and the proper signage for them. However, my crowning achienvcent in creating all of this was not the drop down list of Yes/No/Not applicable that feeds into a binary point system, which totals your points for each level of achievement. Nor was it the ‘Learn More’ button to the right of each task, which when clicked jump to another workbook that contains detailed information to help users complete each task.
I wanted there to be a feel good aspect of this spreadsheet, for users to have immediate validation that their work towards becoming a sustainable office was paying off and so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a gold bar that would show your progress for every point you scored?!’
Once again though, I had no idea how to do this or if it was even possible to do this, but there is one benefit of perfectionism and it’s that you can never give up. So I cranked up ADELE, put my earbuds in and began searching forum after forum for Excel tips, watched many a YouTube video of a computer mouse swirling around an Excel spreadsheet clicking on totally unhelpful things and at the end of the day, left CEEDS disgruntled that I hadn’t cracked the nut yet. Technology doesn’t always have the capacity to do the things we imagine, or we don’t have the patience to learn to make it do what we want. Either way, I was completely disappointed that there was no grand hurrah to this spreadsheet.
On the brink of finally giving up, after the spreadsheet had met all of my other goals, I decided to change one formula just for giggles to see what would happen.
I left CEEDS that day with an unhealthy amount of pride.
Samantha Peikes ‘18
Last semester I studied abroad with the School for Field Studies in the Wet Tropics of far northeast Queensland, Australia. In the last month of the program we were assigned directed research groups where we would use the skills that we learned in class to investigate and research a real-world environmental problem related to the region. These projects included a data collection period, a data analysis period, a scientific report, a poster, and a class presentation. The project I worked on dealt with conducting questionnairre surveys on risk perceptions to climate change throughout different towns and communities in the Wet Tropics. The questions varied from how vulnerable the region is to natural disasters, potential solutions to combat climate change, and what kinds of impacts, if any, will climate change have on the region.
I was extremely overwhelmed with all of the tasks that I needed to complete in order for the project to be successful. I had to push myself outside my comfort zone by being comfortable interviewing complete strangers from another country, some with wildly different environmental opinions than my own. In addition, I had to collaborate with my group to make sure we were all on the same page. However, as I started doing more research on how different groups of people perceive their own risks to climate change, I became more passionate on what I wanted the focus of my project to be. I thought about my own background of privilege and education. I know about climate change from the courses I took, but I am not at all vulnerable to its effects. I wondered how people in opposite situations to my own viewed climate change. The goal of my project was to determine how people of differing age groups, occupations, and education levels perceived their own risks to climate change. I also took the process step by step and focused on what my task was for each day.
After my group and I conducted all of our surveys, we began to categorize the information and narrow our research topics. Eventually, we started to write our scientific research papers, which included an abstract, an introduction, a methods section, results, and conclusion. Mine ended up being over 30 pages long!
The findings of my project were quite fascinating. I discovered that those with a higher levels of education were less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, meaning that they tended to live inland and had more resources to combat flooding and cyclones, while those with less education lived closer to the coast and knew less about climate change. Additionally younger people tended to believe that climate change is accelerated by human activities, while older people tended to believe that it is naturally caused. People in farming occupations also understood the risks of climate change better than those working in retail related jobs, since they witness weather changes first hand through the effects on their crops.
When I finished the project, new questions had emerged: I wondered if the survey questions were somewhat biased, since we could only interview a select group of people. I also wondered if people could have mis-interpreted some of the questions on the survey or lacked the ability to answer fully due to time constraints. If I had the chance to do to project over again, I think I would look into where people got their news from to see if that had any influence over their opinions on climate change. We found that younger people tended to obtain information about climate change via social media, while older people tended to obtain their information via the local paper. Every news source presents climate change differently. This makes me wonder how the issues of climate change can be effectively presented to those with less education and fewer resources and who may only hear about climate change through unreliable media sources or through what others say. Overall, this was probably the most draining and difficult project I have ever partaken in, but it was by far the most rewarding.
Megan Suslovic ‘18
On a Sunday afternoon in early August, my professor, another student, and myself loaded our boots, marsh corer, and bug spray into the van that continually smelled of old marsh (no matter how long we left the windows open). Our destination was Barn Island Wildlife Management Area in Stonington, CT. We were headed to the same sites on the coastal salt marsh that we had been visiting all summer. Although late in the summer, we still had cores to collect and this was the only time to do it.
Upon arriving at Barn Island marsh, we traded our street shoes for boots and made the short (but damp) trek out to our first site. We agreed we would each take turns picking two core sites knowing each time we tried that the core might not come out properly. The odds were not in our favor that day. Whether it was due to the wet conditions from the rain the day before or just bad luck, we did not get a single intact core and each time we pulled the corer out of the ground we heard an unsatisfying “squelch” indicating we had failed to suction up the core. The phrase “science is messy” came to mind as we were stomping around looking for drier plots while trying to avoid the leg-swallowing holes riddling the marsh.
Only mildly deterred, we picked up our equipment and drove up the road to access our next site in the hopes we wouldn’t return empty handed. Fortunately, success came quickly at the next two sites and we returned to the lab with two Seran and newspaper wrapped cores.
We cut the cores into 1cm thick slices and put them in an oven to dry out over night, glad to have the rest of the evening off before beginning the arduous process of picking out all the organic matter (i.e. roots and rhizomes) the next morning. Without going into the gory details of picking out each strand of root, I’ll just summarize by saying many a hour were spent over the next two days with our necks craned over the petri dishes and our fingers cramped from using the fine point tweezers.
The contrast between the day in the field and the days in the lab were stark for me. Given that I had a habit of picking lint off my clothes when I was little, I was ok with the tedious work of sorting through the sediment picking out tiny pieces of root, but knowing we wouldn’t get the results from the radiometric analysis back for six months was frustrating. I have great respect for the scientific process because it yields results that have generally withstood the test of time.
I wouldn’t trade my days out on the marsh for anything, but experiencing firsthand the lag time between collecting data, analyzing it, and then finally publishing the results has convinced me that scientific research is not what I want to pursue in the immediate future. It was an informative exercise to learn about the marsh’s response to past sea level rise but hopefully next summer I’ll be addressing sea level rise and climate change from a solutions based perspective.