Alumni Spotlight

Cory Whitney

 

Cory Whitney

Graduation Year: 2001

Degree: Natural Resources Management (A.A.)

Current Hometown: I was born and raised in mid-coast Maine and that is what I would call my ‘hometown’ although I have not lived there for a many years. For mid-coast Mainers ‘current’ and ‘hometown’ do not really go together. You either are, or you are not.

Employment:

I work as a ‘Human Ecologist’ at the University of Bonn, Center for Development Research (ZEF) in Bonn, Germany

Can you tell us about the work you are doing now?

I wear a lot of hats at the moment. I am still trying to finish my PhD on the topic of homegardens in southwest Uganda. How smallholder subsistence farmers get by without access to modern infrastructure and medicine etc. I am also working in Bonn on modeling procedures to support decisions regarding smallholder agroforestry and horticultural systems.

How did Sterling influence your current career path?

Cory Whitney

My time at Sterling was an extremely influential and motivating experience for me. I was motivated by Perry Thomas’ patience and thoughtfulness as she shared the works of important environmental thinkers such as Aldo Leopold, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Rachel Carson. Perry helped us to really ‘get’ it, and to see the implications of these philosophical positions on the ecology movement and the natural world… Farley Brown gave us a first-hand view of the social and ecological synergies and conflicts regarding conservation. Farley was very kind when, running in hunting season without any whistle or hunter-orange, I was mistaken for a bear and very nearly shot by a hunter… The late Dr. K. Jeffrey Bikart helped us to internalize the function of evolutionary biology and the problem of island biogeography. We read David Quammen’s ‘Song of the Dodo’ together and also did a lot of plant and niche identification in the forests around Sterling… The late George Gardener and his wife Colleen introduced us to Thich Nhat Hahn and a number of different mindfulness techniques that I still use on a daily basis. George and Colleen brought us to see John Kabat Zinn in Boston and to Colorado for the Avalanche forecasting courses. Then President Jed Williamson taught me a lot about communication and inspired me to get involved with outdoor education. Once at dinner in the Dining Hall, after a hard day in the forest working for the great Rick Thomas, I put my hat on the table and Jed took off his boot and put it on the table. I looked at the boot, I looked at Jed, I looked at my hat, and the boot. I removed my hat from the table and he removed his boot. Not a word was spoken. Jed and Perry brought us to Japan for the Japanese Sustainable Systems course, which inspired me to get involved in agricultural research. Erik Hansen was probably the most influential character in my time at Sterling. I was Erik’s assistant for the Work Colleges Consortium and assisted him with his role as mentor to incoming students. He was extremely patient and took a lot of time to listen to my, then rather stubborn and radical, anarchist-vegan thoughts and helped me open up to the extreme complexity of the world.

What is your most memorable Bounder/Expedition memory?

Bounder was miserable. I was a vegan and had very little fat reserve. I traveled with two very old down sleeping bags (one inside another) both were wet, and heavy after the first night. My boots, clothes, sleeping bags, and body were all frozen, all the time. Luckily I was partnered with Alyssa (Bean) Remy-Powers Holmes and she had a lot of vegan chocolates and treats with her. She was so kind to share with me.

Any words of wisdom for the current Sterling generation?

I remember the first day of the Silviculture ecology course. Ross Morgan brought us to the forest and gave us a grave warning for “entrusting your education to an institution”. He advised us to be active and questioning participants in the process of the education. Jeffrey Bickart also once said: “If you are not hypocritical then you do not have very high standards”. It took a while for these pieces of wisdom to sink in but I got a lot more out of my studies after they did, because I tried to lean-in to the contradiction and complexity, and actively question what I was reading and hearing.


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