Cory Whitney ’00 went from studying in tiny Craftsbury Common to turning the entire world into his classroom. He is currently a PhD student in Germany and has done field research in Uganda, Laos, and Vietnam. Here, he talks about his time at Sterling College and the “eye-opening” courses he took here.
Degree: Associate of Arts in Natural Resource Management. Went on to get a BA in Human Ecology at the College of the Atlantic, Captain at the United States Coast Guard in Boston, and MSc. in Sustainable International Agriculture and International Organic Agriculture at the German Universities of Gottingen and Kassel.
Where do you currently work? What is your job title? I am a Scientific Staff Member at the Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences in Kleve, Germany and a PhD student at the University of Kassel.
What’s a typical day like for you? It’s actually really dynamic. I am sitting now and preparing for some field research in homegardens of southwestern Uganda/ working on data analysis and paper submissions from past research expeditions in Laos and Vietnam . . . after June, I will be spending some time teaching and also presenting at conferences/ publishing more work.
What qualifications and qualities do you need for your job? MSc. / field experience in ethnobotany / botany/ agriculture/ joyfulness/ jolly-ness. . .
What led you down this career path? I believe in positive energy as a mechanism for changing the world for the better . . . That’s why I like to say ‘yes’ to organic rather than ‘no’ to GMO. In my work I say ‘yes’ to indigenous communities; ‘yes’ to being together in the forest and ‘yes’ to good clean local food—my work supports movements like Slow Food and the indigenous people’s movements rather than fighting against Monsanto or some other, however justifiable and direct, negative action.
What’s been the most rewarding experience in your career thus far? Joyful gratitude from the community for collaborative work with Hmong healers/ publication of a paper and a book.
And the frustrations? In our environmentally-minded movements we have a lot of heart and dedication and this can sometimes come out in the form of ego, anger, hardheadedness, and difficulty. Some folks are just hard to have a calm conversation with if they think that your idea somehow threatens the cause that they believe in. I think of myself as a young vegan for instance. I think I made my family feel pretty bad about their food. That’s no way to change their hearts and minds. Just a way to alienate them. Now I bring around my food and eat some of theirs too.
How would you describe Sterling—in one word? Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
What do you value from your Sterling experience? The opportunity to try and try again and to be a young, foolish, hyper-idealistic, organic vegan, radical; to be surrounded by lots of others; to finally have the support and love of the faculty for the exploration of all those ideas and feelings; to actually make something of it rather than sit on it and march around with it on a sign or a bumper sticker.
What experiences or courses at Sterling contributed to your career path? All the courses I took were eye-opening. I would say most important were those courses from George and Colleen Gardner. They really brought a grounded and very real spirituality to our attention which was just the practice of positivity. Jeffrey Bickart’s courses helped re-awaken the biologist in me and reading ‘The Song of The Dodo’ in his class taught me so much.
What is your fondest memory of Sterling? Eating together in the dining hall with all the professors and their families. If I can have two: I took care of the Sterling farm over the winter break and milked the Jersey cow and two goats while everyone was away. That was great.
What advice would you give to current Sterling College students interested in pursuing a career like yours? Read a lot. Make good connections with people who are doing the kind of work that you would like to do. Sit for a while in the woods very quietly as often as you can. •