While Samantha Meyer has always been interested in the environment and sustainability, it was at Pomona where she was able to turn that interest into real-world opportunities to make a difference.
In her junior year, Samantha studied abroad in Botswana through a community-based ecology and conservation program that involved three homestays: living with a family in a developing village, an undeveloped village and a big city.
“It was the first time in my life that I had truly seen poverty,” recalls Samantha, who discovered the family in the developing village only had food to eat during her stay because of the money the program had given them. “I think there’s often the misperception that [poor] people are lazy or that they’re doing something wrong, but just to see people who had tried so hard and done so much, not have the basic necessities of life… It was a kind of understanding I had never gotten before.”
After she returned from Botswana, Samantha found her priorities had shifted. During her first two years of college, Samantha had really focused on academics and theory, but now she wanted to do more. “I want to get what I can out of my classes, but I also really want to learn how to make change.”
Back at Pomona, Samantha took a Religion and Environment class with Professor Zayn Kassam that had a large environmental justice component that really resonated. “It combined the human element more, and I think that’s been really important in my understanding of sustainability. It’s not just about reducing our environmental impact; we have to consider people in this process. It really tied in well with my time abroad.”
Among the ways she’s put her knowledge to practical use are helping to build Pomona’s solar rover, which brings green energy to the Organic Farm and events on campus; and helping to create an organic garden at the California Institution for Women, through the 5-College Criminal Justice Network. For the latter, she oversaw the construction of a composting worm-bin, furniture for the green house and garden beds. The prison garden project was recognized with a $10,000 Mountain Dew "Energize Your Community" grant in 2009.
Working in Pomona’s Sustainability Office has also proved rewarding. “Sustainability was always this thing I was excited about,” explains Samantha. “But working for [Director] Bowen [Patterson], you’re confronted with the reality of how things actually work. Now I think I have a much better understanding of, if you want to do this, there are ways you have to do things. There are things you have to figure out. It’s not so theoretical, which has been amazing.”
Out of that work, Samantha’s thesis was born. “I’m doing a real food assessment in the dining hall…. I think that’s the kind of stuff I want to do after college, not specifically [food assessment] but trying to improve our food system, especially for people who don’t have access to decent food otherwise.”
While Samantha’s interests changed and grew during her years at Pomona, she always felt like she had the opportunity to explore wherever her passions led her. “I feel like there is so much going on at Pomona that even as I’ve changed throughout the years and sometimes become frustrated with things or wanted something different, there has always been a space at Pomona that has absorbed that,” says Samantha. “ There’s always been somewhere I can go or new people I can meet. So I feel like no matter what happens, you’re probably going to be able to find a space to find new happiness. I’ve really appreciated that."