Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Concrete Gardener Interviews Katie

Katie is a friend from Wellesley who has been doing amazing things after Wellesley. She is currently an VD/PhD student at UPenn. I asked her some questions and I quote her answers, in full, below, for your inspiration! Katie, thank you so much.

For more information on what the Watson is and what Katie did on her Watson, check out, Katie's website during the Watson year of supported travel.

On the Watson:
There is nothing quite like having a year of travel and independent study to change the way you see the world and the way you lead your life. I met so many fascinating people and was introduced to so many wonderful cultures that I have this general feeling that the world really is a wonderful place- and there are many many individuals working to make it more so. Since I am only 3 years out from my Watson, maybe I can tell the story of a friend who did the Watson 12 years before I did to drive home the point of how poignant it can be to see the world and have time to develop as a person. Jeff Miller biked around the world for his Watson, and when he came back, he joined the bike coalition of Maine, growing it from a group with a few hundred to several thousand members. Jeff rides his bike everywhere, and his playfulness and enthusiasm for biking is contagious. Recently, Jeff was appointed president of the bike coalition for America. With all of his energy, excitement and enthusiasm, I am sure he will continue to do many wonderful things. I am not sure if Jeff’s story is simply because Jeff is so marvelous or if the Watson gave him a take-off platform, and after he started, he could not stop. In any case, it is truly empowering that the Watson Foundation had enough belief in me and my ideas to support me to do what I care deeply about: Architecture for Animals.

I am trying to figure out a way to incorporate all that I learned about animal welfare and animal housing into some future career. Right now, I am involved in the Master Planning committee for the veterinary school- and I am getting more into design for food-animals (there are robotic milkers, manure harvesters, methane harvesters, and solar-powered dairy farms out there ... there ought to be a way to integrate these concepts for a greener, more healthy farm). In short- the Watson was inspiring. It allowed me to inspire myself! I feel emboldened to seek my own path and I have had time to carefully consider what role I want to play in this world.

Universities and Energy:

The problem, as far as I understand it from UPenn, is that there is no incentive to save energy. Often, large universities are divided up into colleges, and the colleges never see their own energy bill. This is bad. To get the ball rolling, the universities could put each college in charge of their own energy bill. That would at least give the colleges pause when they decide to install energy-saving light-bulbs, light-timer devices, or simple things like printers that can print double-sided (currently NONE of the UPenn libraries offer double-sided printing!). On the flip side, it is hip to be green, and a lot of new building projects are aiming to become LEED certified (eg. a new student dorm at UPenn), or at least install solar paneled roofs. It is a frustratingly ironic though that Universities tend to be full of liberals and preach green- yet overlook their own energy waste. There are a million small projects that would be easy to implement- but students need demand the small changes since more institutions are blind to them.

Making a Change:

Individuals can certainly make a change. I think the best way to make a change is to get on a committee where there are faculty and staff directly involved. Bring ideas about greening to the public's attention. Talk about it. Come up with suggestions, and be tenacious enough to continue to remind the university what needs to change and how to change it- until it is done. Another thing to keep in mind is to change some small things first: recycling options, double-sided printing, and light-bulbs. From there, you can get involved with bigger projects like motivating green space and purchasing clean energy. Additionally, get the institution to look at their carbon footprint and ways that they can reduce it. Make a plan of action, and measure the progress so that everyone involved feels they are working towards a goal, and accomplishing lots of small tasks on the way.


Living is Sweden was wonderful on so many levels, and there is so much that I learned there which I hope will transfer to life in the US. I will just list a few of the concepts that I enjoyed.

5 weeks: there is a minimum of 5 weeks of vacation in Sweden for everyone. People have more leisure time, and they tend to take advantage of it. Spending time in nature and with family is highly valued. It sometimes feels like we Americans have too little time to enjoy our families or to get out into the great outdoors. That means that protecting wildlife and enjoying parenting doesn’t come naturally in our helter-skelter culture, which is a shame.

Mamaledig/Papaledig: Another thing the Swedes have is “mamaledig” and “papaledig” – that is a term for vacation time issued when you have a child. I believe both parents get 14 months of paid vacation to share. Each parent has to take at least 2 months, or that vacation time is lost. This means that there are heaps of fathers who stay home with their kids. It is common so see dads out in the park playing soccer with their kids, or dads pushing strollers and meeting up with friends at cafes for lunch. I wish my father were allowed the time to play with us. The other side-effect of allowing equal time off for child-rearing is that it has become impossible for work places to gender-discriminate as men and women are just as likely to take time off for having a baby. And the perk is that, with designated amounts of time off, mothers and fathers are likely to come back to work too instead of being stay-home parents forever.

Designated inner-city bike lanes: In Gothenburg, where I lived most of the time I was in Sweden, there are separate lanes for pedestrians, cars and bikes. This required some infrastructure planning on the Swede’s part, but it makes biking to work so much easier and safer. People are outdoors, interacting with each other, and value air cleanliness and exercise more simply because they have the option. I look around in Philadelphia for this same phenomenon, and I see it only along the Schuylkill River. The only designated bike-path in Philadelphia lines both sides of the river, and it is always in heavy use with joggers, rollerbladers, and bikers. I with implementing designated bike paths, the rule in the US is: if you build it, they will come. I just wish there were more bike paths so that more people could bike to work. It would green the city, and make us healthier (plus, it takes my husband 15 minutes to bike to work- it would take 30 minutes if he were to drive- so biking is a time-saver).

Health care: And since you asked: yes, universal health care in Sweden is wonderful. The interesting thing about it though, is that the Swedes are not alone. Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada, Iceland, Brunei, India, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and ThailandSingapore, Thailand, India and Australia all have universal health care. The list is long, and the outcome successful.

Current plans:

After the Watson, I did a little zoo consulting work in Sweden and completed a Masters program in virology. I have always known that I wanted to be a veterinarian, and so Jonas and I moved back to the US for school. I hope to combine my veterinary degree with a degree in architecture so that I can continue to work in the field of animal design. I find out in April if I am accepted to the architecture program, and if not, I will go back to the drawing board and perhaps do a PhD in conservation.

To be honest, I think you can do a lot of work in the field of conservation and energy policy without a graduate degree. All you need is experience and networking. In my case, however, because I come at the issue of conservation and environment with a special interest in animal welfare, I need a medical degree to make judgments about environmental impact and the health of the animals under our direct or indirect care. At this point, I have several scenarios for my future: designing green barns for livestock, managing a zoo and educating about local wildlife, or working on conservation projects with the Smithsonian, American Zoo Association, or the World Health Organization.

My advice to others is to find your niche by volunteering and working-then evaluate if you need a graduate degree to get to the next step. There are so very many ways to get involved: working a campaign or in local government, blogging ( J ), volunteering with your local bike coalition, research, or implementing simple changes in your workplace and home. Just think about those researchers whose passion it was to evaluate chunks of ice- they have a very definite role in bringing global warming to the limelight.

Generational Dreams:

I have so many dreams for our generation- and I have a really good feeling about us! For one thing, there are so many of us getting involved in something bigger than the American dream (career, family, house, car). A lot of people, even if they do not take time off to travel and think about what they want from life, they take a year to do something different: the Peace Corps or Teach for America, for example. It seems our generation is motivated to make a difference in our communities. We value grassroots movements and our neighborhoods. I think our generation also values free time, which goes hand-in-hand with traveling and volunteering.

My hope for our generation is that we demand to have more than 1-2 weeks of vacation a year; when we get more time off, that we use it to better our local communities by being involved in Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, humane societies, etc. I hope that we can enjoy time outdoors- hiking, working in out urban gardens, or helping out at a local farm. I hope we get from point A to point B by biking, walking, rollerblading, or dancing- so that we are healthy and aware of the route between work and home. I also hope that we take time for the next generation- be that simply planting a tree with neighborhood kids, or showing a school group around a nature reserve.