Laura Berry in Scotland, where she spent a term at the University of Glasgow.Laura Berry in Scotland, where she spent a term at the University of Glasgow.

Since transferring from Middlebury College in the fall of 2014, Laura Berry ’17 has been an active member of the COA community. She has organized students to attend a variety of events around the east coast, including the People’s Climate March in New York City, Generation Climate Rising in Augusta, Maine, and Friends Committee on National Legislation lobbying weekend in Washington, DC. Berry was voted co-chair of the Campus Committee for Sustainability in the spring of 2015.

Berry decided to study at COA because she wanted to delve into human ecology. She is most interested in how economic principles and realities shape people’s relationships with one another and with the natural world.

What were you doing this fall?

I spent three months of fall term in Scotland and I was attending the University of Glasgow, but I wasn’t actually in Glasgow — I was in a town called Dumfries which is in the western part of Scotland. It’s a mid-size town, about 50,000 people, and it’s home to one of the university’s external campuses where they have the school of interdisciplinary studies. In that school I was taking classes through the program for environmental science and stewardship, which is pretty much the only undergraduate environmental studies-focused program in the entire UK.

What have you been studying at COA?

In general, during my time at COA and before, human ecology. I take human ecology actually fairly seriously — I know a lot of people don’t have a good working definition of what it is, but when I came to COA I was actually very clear on the fact that I wanted to study human ecology as I learned about it at Middlebury where I took a class in it the term before I transferred.

To me it really is looking at, not necessarily disciplines, but the relationships between humans and each other, the relationships between humans and the worlds they create for themselves, whether that’s in cities or in rural places, and also the relationships between humans and nature and how they consider themselves part of it or not part of it and why. I would usually tell people before that I was interested in environmental studies and sustainability, which sort of is the end result because I’m looking at human ecology from a problem-focused perspective where I want to understand those relationships to solve some seriously pressing environmental issues like climate change.

So in that realm I do study human ecology and I’m comfortable saying that. If I was pressed to answer the question of, “Okay, well, what are you focusing on?” I’d probably look at it and say that I’m interested in community planning and economics, but also environmental policy.

What was the value of taking what you’ve learned at COA and applying it elsewhere, and vice-versa?

“I’m looking at human ecology from a problem-focused perspective where I want to understand those relationships to solve some seriously pressing environmental issues like climate change” - Laura Berry ’17.

I think, for me, the biggest thing was getting to understand environmental policy and environmental mindsets in the UK as compared to the US. I took a class called Environmental Policy and Management that focused a lot on EU regulation and how policy gets pushed from the grassroots level up through the policy frameworks and legislation frameworks in those countries, and especially looking at the EU in particular. There’s a lot that it has in common with the US in terms of decentralized states — literal states, like nation states, not US states — making decisions but recognizing that they all are also tied to this bigger overarching body of the European Union, and that environmental legislation in that sense is both a local and super national thing.

So, I think that was really interesting because people talk about Europe and the UK as being more enlightened when it comes to environmental issues… but I think in a lot of ways it is very similar, but that the way that people frame environmental issues politically here seriously affects how the policy gets made. It’s not seen as an important or dominant issue whereas I think in Europe… it seems more like an acceptable political topic to have strong opinions on or to run a campaign based on.

It was interesting to see that dynamic, and also just meeting some of the few undergraduates in the UK who decided right out of high school to go to this program for environmental science and sustainability, because in the UK you choose your major when you’re a first year.

What are your plans for the future? Your senior project? After graduation?

Going to the UK definitely solidified my interest in going abroad for graduate school, so graduate school’s definitely in the plans. I’m interested in environmental policy and management, but also - a class I took my first term here at COA was Advanced Seminar in Ecological Economics with Davis Taylor - one of my main focuses is using economics and looking at the economy and how it essentially inherently drives some environmental problems, and looking at how to work with that.

Right now I’m looking at internships in the UK and in the US that work specifically on economic policy or economic thought with relation to environmental issues, and I think that’s probably somewhere that I’ve found a lot of intellectual joy. That’s sort of the long term plan — looking to figure out what a sustainable economy looks like and what that means.

Berry urges other students interested in the program to talk with her.

I don’t think it was the typical study abroad experience in the sense that people sometimes go and do SEA semester, or some program. This was really going to another school and being completely ensconced in that experience. It’s valuable especially for American students who don’t really get to see higher education outside of the American system. It was a really valuable experience for me just to see how it works in a different place.  

They’re looking for more American students — they explicitly said that they were happy to have me there. So if more students from COA are interested they should come talk to me.