Entry Nine: The End of a Chapter
The tedious journey to getting my degree has finally come to an end. The tireless nights, seemingly impossible midterms, and time spent with some of my closest friends are over. I thought on graduation day I would be teary-eyed and frantic, but to be honest I was ready to get out of there.
Here are some shots of myself in my graduation cap and gown and a photo of the well-frequented Ellicott Creek Trailway in Buffalo. I’m saying goodbye to swampy Western New York and hello to the Midwest and a summer job as a research assistant. Regardless of what’s ahead, I’ve got to close one chapter before starting another one. I want to end my this chapter by sharing some facts about the career path that I chose and the difficulties that came with it.
“In 2015, less than 1 percent of all U.S. engineering bachelor’s degrees went to African-American women”. – Campus Technology
I can attest to the fact that few minorities graced the halls of my university, and there weren’t a ton represented in the faculty or staff either. Although there are numerous historically black colleges in the South, meeting someone who looked like myself at my school up North was rare. I couldn’t find that familiar comfort so easily. In many of my classes I was the only African-American person, let alone African-American woman with a biracial background. I wasn’t surrounded by people of color, but many encouraged me from afar. Despite my struggles, I know I wasn’t the only person who had some sort of challenge in their career field. Gender and sexual minorities, women of all races, and people of other ethnic groups face difficulties penetrating career fields that weren’t previously available to them.
“Less than eighteen percent of civil, architectural, and sanitary engineers are women”. – National Girls Collaborative Project
I don’t want to look back on the past and say that I wish it went better. Instead, I want to share my hopes for the future. I hope that people who want to support racial and gender minorities will include us in study groups, talk to us outside of class, and try to understand where we’re coming from. Consider us equally for jobs and opportunities, and respect us just as you would your other colleagues.
I met a plethora of inspiring people on the way to getting my degree; some men, some women, some family members, even people outside of my career field. I wish to be half as influential as my supporters. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read this post. I appreciate all of you. If you want to share encouraging words, feel free to comment at the bottom of this page! ❤️🌍
Entry Eight: Smart
I can remember sitting at the kitchen table with my mom when I was in second grade, screaming and crying because I couldn’t understand multiplication. The new curriculum called Everyday Mathematics was just released. My friends all counted on their fingers or used lattice, but I wanted to learn the magical method of long division and traditional multiplication. As tears streamed down my face, my mom made it clear that if I wasn’t going to give her the chance she wouldn’t teach me. So I stormed off to my room in a cloud of abandonment and anger and refused to touch the topic for a year.
Many years later I was in the Math League at my high school. I attended problem solving competitions. I was motivated by extra credit in my Calculus course and free donuts, but regardless, I did it. It reduced math from a big scary monster to a less scary apologetic monster. It didn’t make me smarter or cleverer, but it made me more durable. Often times I wonder if I have the same chances at making it in engineering as a smart person. You see, I’m not smart. Yet somehow I have made it this far.
Everyone at my high school was ranked. From 1 to 654 just one digit could determine your social standing at Liverpool High School. My rank was below 60 so I didn’t make the paper. Essentially I didn’t exist as a competitive being. In fact, our physics professor made it known that only two students had D’s. Guess who got that lucky title? Nevertheless, redemption came when SAT scores were published. My stomach dropped when I saw 2090 on the screen. There was no way. Some error had to have occurred. I was beyond enthusiastic: I was going to college.
According to a study on Asian American students versus American students, “There’s also evidence that Americans believe that A’s go to smart kids, while Asians are more likely to think that they go to hard workers. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but the result is that Asian-American kids are allowed no excuse for getting B’s”. That, folks, is an accurate description of me. I’m not Asian, but I can relate to the idea that you should never give up. The great thing about struggling through life is that when you are presented with another hurdle, your reaction is to jump over it. Fail a midterm? Get assigned a ten-page paper due in one day? No problem. I’ve seen worse. And that’s how to be smart.
Entry Seven: Flashback
It was the end of the school year. My classmates and I twitched in our seats, eager at the idea of graduation and college right around the corner. Jimmy Chrisfield, my animated 12th grade psychology professor, was planted in the middle of the room. His loud voice boomed out what he had learned from each of us that year. When it was my turn, Chrisfield spun around and pointed at me. “And you, Jess, are a freaking hippy!” I grinned, sitting there in my purple and gold kimono from Chinatown.
Like a true Nature’s child, we were born, born to be wild.
One of the most pivotal hippie gatherings of all time took place not far from my hometown. August 17th, 1969 went down in history for the peace & love spread through Woodstock. In modern day, the grassroots movement of the 60’s has truly been romanticized as a widespread hand-holding support group that helped end Vietnam. In reality, hippies are the veterans of a difficult time in US history. I could talk for ages on this subject. Instead, I will briefly explain why hippies are the sole root of my admiration. I could never be as remarkable as a hippie.
Woodstock would have smelled like cannabis, sweat, and urine. Nearly half a million bodies crowded in to hear big names like The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. There was free drugs, free love, and chaos. Hippies were from middle and upper-middle class families, as the care-free lifestyle required a certain amount of financial support. Greenwich Village, San Francisco, and Martha’s Vineyard were prime locations for college students or grads to live together and share resources in houses otherwise known as communes. Towards the end of the grassroots movement, hippies became targets of violence for the establishment. Hippies were pepper sprayed, wounded, and even shot during peaceful protests. I have so much respect for these people. Through it all, hippies stayed true to their message of unity. Which brings me to the question: Where are they now? And the answer: They’re out there, somewhere, loving and living. Best of all, they know how to enjoy life.
Green eyes surrounded by red
Got a feather in her hair silk scarf on her head
Aviator glasses and turquoise rings
She prefers to wear beads over bling
-MODSUN (Movement on Dreams, Stand Under None)
The hippies were the only ones of their kind. I’m not quite sure where I fit in. I believe in the ideals of compassion, togetherness, and peace. I break rules. I am a free spirit. I stand for what is right. I’m a wannabe hippie, a partial punk, an aspiring socialite and a born geek.
Peace and love,
The Green Goddess
Entry Six and a Half: Feelin Good
Recently I’ve seen inspirational posts on tumblr or twitter about drinking more water. As an environmentalist and somewhat of a health nut, I feel it is important to speak out on this topic. While it is healthy to drink about 8 glasses of water a day, keep in mind that water intake varies with each person and their comfort level. If you are thirsty, drink. If you are not thirsty, do not force yourself to drink water as it can be dangerous for your body. Smaller people with slower metabolisms might not drink as much as larger people who burn energy quickly. People who are losing body heat fast due to an exercise like swimming will need more water than someone who is sedentary. I get nervous seeing “hydration inspiration” posts like the ones below. In school your teacher might tell you that humans are 80 percent water, or that you should always be drinking water. The truth is that there is already water in drinks and food. For example; pineapples, cranberries, oranges, and raspberries are 87 percent water.
It’s no wonder that at some point in my life I developed a bizarre mentality about water. It’s part of the guilt. In my classes I am told that Americans use more water than any other country. We are greedy with our showers, our farming, everything. I realized how bad the guilt was when I felt the effects of severe dehydration. Nausea, headaches, and faint spells clouded my mind until I consumed enough electrolytes and water to get well again. Now I carry water everywhere I go.
Yes, it is a privilege to have water. However, everyone needs to drink it. I deal with the guilt by reminding myself that if other people were in my shoes they would do the same thing. It is okay to take a long shower when you need one. It is okay to drink water whenever you want to. In fact, it is a human necessity to drink water to the point of fullness. As you scroll through tumblr or twitter looking for inspiration to work out or be healthy, don’t get carried away. Drinking too much water is fatal. I want people to really hear me out on this: Water is not the epitome of weight loss. It will hydrate you and refresh your skin, but it is not a miracle worker. If you still aren’t convinced, read this article: Hydration Obsession and stay healthy.
Entry Six: A Little Q&A
As I sit here with anxiety building in my chest like pressure running through a pipe, I hope that somewhere in the midst of things I get the chance to breathe. This week I’ve been hit with a quick succession of midterms: one for Engineering Statistics on Saturday, one for Ecological Engineering tomorrow, Ecology on Thursday, and Fluids on Friday night during the family weekend bonfire. Clearly my professors hate me.
One time I asked the university counselor for the secret to success. They said they didn’t know, or they wouldn’t be working here. We both laughed.
Instead of droning on about classes and how to persistently dodge failure, I am going to answer some questions about my life choices. I stole the questions from the CUTEST website ever called EngineerGirl.
No. Although I am only a Junior right now, I know that if I finish out this year I will have survived the most difficult stage. I have a passion for environmental engineering, and sometimes the hard classes and annoying teachers make me forget why I’m here. In the end I stick it out because of the people who need basic human resources like clean water. They don’t give up, so neither should I.
When I was little I didn’t understand that I had to grow up and make a living. In middle school I said I wanted to be an astronaut so I could see the constellations as celestial beings and hear the legendary Music of the Spheres. In high school I wanted to do whatever people didn’t want me to do. What age was I interested in engineering? Maybe never. Haha.
Heck yes. There is certainly a fine line. I see ChemE’s as little horned devils compared to us peaceful, meditating tree nymphs. Chemical engineers love making more and more plastic while the environmental engineers follow them around, picking up trash. Speaking of which I really need to get back to what I was doing before!
Talk later, Jess ❤
Entry Five: Eco Films
This weekend, the plan was to go apple picking with friends and enjoy the last bearable weather my city has to offer. However, as midterms strike and seasons change, I was stuck inside with a stuffed nose and closed up throat. Luckily Netflix just released Zootopia so I got to suffer curled up on a couch with a smile on my face.
Watching animals parade around with cleverly anthropomorphic personalities proved to be very entertaining. As kids, my sister and I watched the BBC versions of The Chronicles of Narnia hundreds of times on VCR. Eventually we graduated to modern films like Kung-Fu Panda and Wall-E, but the Narnia budget films and dollar store tales like The Bunny Picnic are scratched into our memories.
Whether or not an environmental message is evident, films like Zootopia promote passion for the environment around us, perhaps even an awareness of creatures other than ourselves. Bambi, Rio, Over the Hedge, Chicken Run, and The Lorax are just a few wonderous films that feature environmental consciousness. Earth day is forever away, but there are loads of environmental documentaries at our fingertips. Here’s a long list of eco-friendly films with short descriptions if you choose to indulge: Green Films
Entry Four: What Made Me
For every summer until she passed, Mom took my sister and I to Grandma’s house to see our cousins. When we arrived we were greeted by Paul The Candy Guy, Grandma’s then boyfriend who spoiled us rotten. Grandpa had long since passed away, but his spirit still roamed around the cobweb-filled attic spaces or could be felt drifting by the grand piano with its sad tunes. Sometimes I thought I saw a figure wallowing in the musty closet full of antique mink coats and his old cowboy boots.
At night time the parents would gather over beer and bonfire while the little kids got to watch old television shows like Fraggle Rock that grandma kept on VCR. Sometimes we would explore the house or the many acres of woods that stretched on beyond the pond.
If you took the small wooden steps down to the basement, you would find the clothing shoot that I pushed my cousin TJ into, an old washer and dryer, paintings of horses and trees on the walls that my mom did before she knew she was an artist, and hoards of old furniture and junk. Near the back corner was a table of Grandpa Fritz’s rocks. Perhaps there was a tiny magnifier, a rock tumblr, other tools. I was told he was a scientist. But directly in front of you would be what we always went to the basement for: the arcade game.
The coin slot of the arcade game was keyed open so we could play as many games as we wanted. There was a wiggly bar stool centered in front of the big box holding the screen. My sister and I took turns playing. We were fascinated by the big yellow face that bounced around when you died, moaning in a creepy monster voice, “Intruder Alert, Intruder Alert.” The added effect of the dark, silent basement with occasional groans from the water pipes made us run back up the stairs and through the door.
There were a lot of things that took place in 1972. Richard Nixon was President. The Dallas Cowboys demolished the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl. America was amidst the Cold War, Space Race, and Vietnam. The first women were admitted to Dartmouth, hired by the FBI, and allowed to run in the Boston Marathon. And Grandma’s house was built.
Mom always gets emotional when she talks about Grandpa. I feel bad that I can’t cry with her to console her. She was pregnant with me when he died from cancer. If he had only lived a little while longer he would have met me.
There is an African belief that the spirits of elders watch over newborn children. Looking around the study filled with piles of musty papers, Grandma’s bedroom, the room with the vintage telephone and golden Thanksgiving dishes…I was too young to wonder about my invisible Grandpa. But I sensed something about the house. It was ethereal. My sister and I sometimes had the same dreams about rooms in the house going on forever, the shiny green wallpaper in the stairwell expanding into infinity.
It’s no wonder that I began collecting rocks and fossils like Grandpa, or that I was fascinated with miniature toads in the window wells, bees in the flower bush, the dried out pond under the tire swing. Hearing stories of Grandpa put me on edge. He was a Sequoia tree, strong and unwavering in his thoughts, looming high over the forest. Why should a spirit like that be allowed to stay?
To this day I have trilobites and quartz crystals, beautiful geodes, handwritten notes from the man I never knew. I have followed in his footsteps as an environmentalist and in my aspirations as an educator.
I may have grown up in another town, but those woods and that house are my home.
Entry Three: Ignorance is Bliss
Once I walked into a fast food chain at the very end of the night. Some workers were cleaning up in the kitchen and I noticed someone pouring bleach down the drain. I’ve never used bleach to clean my sink so I walked out still wondering what exactly bleach can be used for.
Do you know if bleach can unclog pipes? Luckily, this exact question has been asked and answered by someone on TheGoodHuman before. Some people use bleach to unclog grimy pipes. Unfortunately, bleach doesn’t have any unclogging power. And although water treatment facilities easily break bleach down into salt water, bleach can do damage before it gets there. Instead, you can try pouring boiling water down the sink for an quicker, easier way to clear it up. More to the point, let’s say you used Windex that morning and the fumes were still floating around the house. Ammonia and bleach together make toxic fumes that can be lethal.
“Chlorine bleach releases dioxin, furans and other organochlorines into the air, can cause sore throats, coughs, wheezing, shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs and studies have shown a relationship between dioxin exposure and cancer, birth defects, and developmental/reproductive disorders.”
Not only are there eco-friendly bleaches, but there are some excellent homemade cleaning solutions. Thanks to homesogood’s article I discovered these cool alternatives:
- Lemon Juice – I love this one for lightening my hair in the summer!
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Baking Soda
Entry Two: Cayuga Lake Glamping
Many moons ago I went glamping (glamour camping) with family for one full torturous week at Cayuga lake. I might be an environmentalist but I certainly cannot live without Wi-Fi. Not only that, but the sun quite literally beat down on us from sunrise until around 7pm every night. I say “glamping” rather than camping because the experience was still a cake walk compared to the tenting stories my friends told. There was air conditioning in our cabin, a master bedroom, a toaster, microwave, and full fridge in the kitchen, a bathroom bigger than ours at home, desk, table, two couches and a twin bed. YES, I was spoiled. NO, I did not bring anything fun to do. Except I did beat my high score at Tetris repeatedly.
Even though I was dying from lack of social interaction and dehydration, I thought the gig they had going on at Long Point State Park was very clever. They used the money from the beach parking & tourists at the cabin to support the park. There were walking/running paths through the woods as well. Nearby businesses capitalize on the summer residents with canoe and kayak rentals. A few times Dad went fishing, but he only caught tiny fish…Another fisherman saw him and gave him two bass to take home and pretend were his. Haha. I have to admit it felt kind of prehistoric watching him gut the fish on a rock. We really were hunting and killing our next meal.
I felt a glimmer of hope every time we left the cabin. Mom was reluctant to because she wanted her money’s worth, but by the end of the trip she realized Rachel was showing signs of sun poisoning and potential anaphylaxia, Dad was not the brightest camper, and I was in a horrible mood. So we ventured out to Cornell’s beautiful and very expensive campus to see the famed botanical garden. We also got the chance to explore the “Mississippi of the East” as some say, the Taughannock Falls.
I have to say that the botanical garden was AMAZING. It seemed to span an infinite distance, and we barely had time for one section of the garden. My favorite were these flowers that looked like sunflowers but smelled like cocoa, called the Chocolate Daisy. I wanted to photograph every single flower but I decided to take pictures with my eyes instead because no picture could come out as good as being there in person. If you’re ever in the Ithaca, NY area you MUST see the gardens.
On the note of the falls, I was very disappointed. It didn’t rain very much this summer at all so once we got to the falls they were dried up to the point that the mud at the bottom was cracking! What was supposed to represent the Mississippi looked like a pathetic trickle of water. I demanded a refund (even though the visit was free). Still, the panoramic of the rocky landscape is one you can’t miss.
If I were to visit the gardens again I would aim for the Climate Change Garden. As part of the student and faculty research that goes on at Cornell, the two parts of this garden were set up to compare climatic conditions in present day to future predictions of extreme climate change and to study which plants would grow and which kinds would thrive. To read more about it, click on this link: Cornell Climate Change Garden.
Signing off for now, Jess
Entry One: Six Word Memoir
I love the environment but…Chicken.
One star who I avidly follow on social media is a world-famous tattoo artist and part-time model from England named Hannah Pixie Snowdon. She is a straight-up gorgeous twenty-three year-old vegan who happens to be married to the lead vocalist of Bring Me The Horizon, an acclaimed metalcore band. Her posts on Instagram and Snapchat provide her fans with snippets of her daily adventures and motivation on how to lead a wholesome life. Occasionally the dark side of the internet gets her down and she disappears from the scene for a while, but she faithfully comes back refreshed and with an important message for her followers. I really admire her environmental consciousness and the effort she puts into being 100% vegan. Something I feel really guilty about is how un-vegan I am.
Let’s clear this up real quick: VEGANS don’t eat food that comes from anything with a face. (just think for a sec- this means no butter, milk, yogurt, eggs, etc.) VEGETARIANS do not eat meat or fish. PESCATARIANS do not eat meat, but they do eat fish. I could probably try the pescatarian diet because I would absolutely love to eat lobster every day for the rest of my life.
When I was in high school I wrote a ten page research paper on the benefits and disadvantages to being vegetarian and vegan. My conclusion was that some people can thrive on these types of diets, while others suffer things like depression, weight loss/gain, mood swings, and more symptoms that result from the loss of certain vitamins and nutrients. The reasons that lead people to becoming vegan or vegetarian range far and wide. Although the efforts of an individual may not shift an entire spectrum of consumerism, capitalism, or animal rights, committing to a vegan or vegetarian life style shows dedication to making changes and allows for a transition into a greener market. Hannah uses her online presence to spread the word about standing against animal cruelty, whether that be through pictures of her adopted rescue dog or tasty treats from a vegan cafe in England.
So what about vegetarian-fed hens and farms against animal cruelty? Why don’t people just advocate for those?
I’ve asked the same questions and I’ve learned that essentially, by refusing to eat mysterious meat products, you stop supporting both the fair and unfair practices with your consumer dollars. As a human it’s very difficult to do a thorough background check on every piece of food that enters your body. That’s why I admire vegans, vegetarians and pescatarians.
Probably the most beautiful couple I have ever seen. Rumor is they met when Hannah tattooed Oli. Then of course they fell in love, and eventually got married.