When I started at Pitt, I knew I was interested in climate change and agriculture, and I knew I wanted to learn more about other countries and apply that knowledge to the United States. The classes I chose to take reflected that. Classes on world history and the climate gave me knowledge on the functioning of the climate, how and why human activity began to change the earth, and how climate change will affect us. The Introduction to Global Studies class gave me frameworks through which to analyze what I learn about the world; the critical thinking skills I learned there have helped me in everything I have learned since. Classes like Sustainability gave me the knowledge I need to be able to lead movements to cause changes to mitigate the effects of climate change. Studying German and Hindi and taking classes on Indian culture and biology gave me the knowledge I need to be able to travel in each country and learn from their practices with regard to climate change and agriculture. The mixture of classes I have taken combined with my co-curricular experiences gives me a unique perspective on potential fixes for the faulty American food system as climate change becomes more immediate.

Coursework Descriptions

Core Course: Introduction to Global Studies

The Intro to Global Studies course was unlike any other course I took at Pitt. This course helped me fully understand the ideas of globalization, neoliberalism, liberalism, radicalism, and capitalism. It provided me a framework with which to view the issues discussed in my other courses. The class emphasized close readings of texts followed by categorization of the viewpoint each author showed with respect to neoliberalism, liberalism, and radicalism. I had to think deeply to be able to keep up with the rest of the class, since I was unused to those avenues of thought. Because of that, I learned to critically read texts, which I think is an invaluable skill. In my classes on current environmental issues and communication, I have been able to place the issues and the necessary communication in a broader global context, which I think helps me better understand the issue as it connects to other issues and people all over the world.

Course Highlight: Himalayan Geography

The Himalayan Geography course I took while studying abroad in India provided a broad overview of northern Indian cultures and environmental systems and the interactions between them. The emphasis of the course was experiential learning, so our written coursework only involved reports field trips, examining or researching one aspect of the trip that had particularly struck us. During the trips, our instructor took us on smaller hikes, showed us traditional and nontraditional influences on local life, and gave mini lectures on local topics. The lectures between field trips gave us general knowledge on much of the Himalayas, such as the movements of glaciers in the mountains and the effects climate change has already wrought on the area.

This was one of the first times I had the opportunity to experience first-hand an environment and culture influenced by colonialization and climate change. Our instructor told us about the effect of the British Raj on the mountains in Uttarakhand, especially on the health of the jungle there and the consequences for local farmers. The British government encouraged cutting down trees in the jungle to increase their own economic gain, and the massive loss of oak trees that followed left the remaining trees, underbrush, and even farmers’ cows struggling to grow as lushly as before. The British influence also extended to systems of privilege in the area – although India has been independent for more than fifty years, people with ties to Europe or with English ability are much better able to comfortably support themselves and their families, and people without the opportunity to form those connections must remain on small farms in poverty.

Our instructor is also a part of a local NGO, Lok Chetna Manch, and part of his work with them involves finding ways to rehabilitate the jungle around Ranikhet. Lok Chetna Manch participated in an international project to reinstate traditional lifestyles and farming methods in villages, including some in northern India, in an attempt to show that traditional ways of life can successfully support people. Their project was so successful that nearby villages asked to be included. From these experiences and stories I learned something new about sustainable agriculture – small-scale, traditional agriculture is more sustainable than the one-size-fits-all monocultures used farther south in India and in the Midwest in the United States. Adapting farming methods to a small region and rehabilitating the local environment can lead to more stable and successful agriculture.

Elective: Sustainability

The Sustainability course focused around semester-long projects organizing projects to make Pitt’s campus more sustainable, through which I learned how to properly organize a group of people into a movement to cause a specific change or into a club or other organization. I was able to use the information I learned in this class in my role as President of Plant to Plate, the campus gardening club. Although the garden is an important part of the university’s sustainability efforts, in the last few years it has been shrinking, and I was able to use the information from the Sustainability class to begin combating that process. I can use the knowledge I gained from both the class and my experience with Plant to Plate in other community organizing or outreach projects, which are integral in any progress toward more environmentally friendly practices.

Elective: Sustainable Agriculture

The Sustainable Agriculture course taught me more nuances about different types of agriculture and the reasons why people use certain methods. Often organic agriculture is portrayed by people who do not farm as the only good way to farm, but it is not always perfect or the most reasonable, and there are many other possibilities. Hearing perspectives other than my own opened my eyes to the importance of always hearing many sides to the same story before making a decision about who is right and who is wrong.

Study Abroad: Himalayan Biodiversity

I took Himalayan Biodiversity during my semester abroad in India. Our instructor taught us about different species or groups of species in the Himalayas – we covered everything from their lifespans, habitats, and migration to the effects humans and climate change have on them. It was my first time learning about an ecosystem in such detail. Our discussions on anthropogenic effect on networks of plants and animals in the Himalayas was of particular interest to me. India’s large population leads to complex politics and a greater human effect on ecosystems, and India is also experiencing more effects from climate change. This class combined with Himalayan Geography gave me a comprehensive idea of the complex interactions between government, people, and the environment, and of the work it takes to ensure the health of an ecosystem.

Elective: The Atmosphere, Oceans, and Climate

The Atmosphere, Oceans, and Climate course gave me a good background in how the global climate functions and how different regions of the world are connected. We learned about the different cycles in the atmosphere and oceans and how they connect, as well as how changes in some factors to those cycles can lead to feedback loops that eventually lead to climate change. That information is essential now, since climate change is currently happening and knowing the reasons behind it can help in the search for solutions.

Elective: Energy in World History

This World History course looked for a common thread of energy and prime movers throughout history. We discussed the use of human energy as the prime mover for most of human history, as well as the use of fire, and related those energy sources to the effects of the agricultural revolution. We contined to discuss the development of the uses of coal, gas, oil, and electricity, and the rapid changes those energy sources caused worldwide beginning with the industrial revolution. We also discussed the possibility of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, based on the idea that humans have caused enough changes to the planet through the use of nuclear weapons, among other things, to permanently alter the appearance of rocks. This class gave me a good overview of the ways humans have changed the planet over time, and the ways human systems like capitalism and neoliberalism affect not only other people but also the environment. Human change and environmental change are inextricably interconnected, and this class helped me realize the extent of those connections.