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Alumni Advice from Sophie Slessinger

Sophie Slessinger

May 2009.  What a perfect time to be graduating from Emory University.  From any university.  As soon as an adult finds out about my approaching commencement, his or her face melts into that sympathetic, sorry smile, and they ask (with a gentle shoulder pat) if I know what I am doing come June 1st.  Once they pry more and find out about my major in Cultural Anthropology and my minor in Dance and Movement Studies, their compassionate words morph into sarcastic comebacks—“What a useful degree!”  “Well good luck with that one!”  After the first dozen or so interrogations, I learned to respond “I have no idea!!!” with an intense grin on my face.  My Clairmont neighbor fondly referred to our strategy as the “non-plan plan”.  This overly enthusiastic admission of unknowingness would pretty much end the conversation point-blank.  

“But seriously,” I asked one of my Green Bean coworkers one day, “What am I going to do after graduation!?”  We started discussing the lack of general student enthusiasm for Emory’s sustainability initiatives.  I could see small pockets of passionate people between my work at the Green Bean and my time in various anthropology classes and the Emory as Place experimental class, but I also knew that many first and second year students were not participating in the courses or student organizations that I myself did not discover until around junior year. 

One day while at the coffee cart, my friend mentioned the importance of Residence Life in first and second year students’ lives.  It made sense, too.  Your SA, RA, and RHD are some of the first people you meet at Emory.  They are your tour guides, security guards, mentors, therapists, and ultimately, friends.  If Emory’s sustainability goals were introduced through different aspects of Residence Life, maybe these behavioral choices would become instilled in more Emory students early on.

My next step was to propose an idea for a “Sustainability Fellow” in Residence Life to various supportive and committed campus administrators and faculty members.   A combination of their dedication and really, really, really, lucky timing led me to being employed part-time by Emory as the Sustainability Fellow for Residence Life. 

Since August 2009, I have planned and assisted in programs for undergraduate residents that support Emory’s sustainability initiatives.  If you attended the Green Networking Night, participated in the October Energy Competition, or are currently hyper sensitive of the need to recycle white paper, I probably had something to do with it.  I enjoy my job because I get to work across departments and offices, with a mix of students, faculty, and staff.  Also, since I work part-time, I still am able to dance and choreograph throughout the Atlanta area. 

Understanding concepts of sustainability from an anthropological standpoint also helps me relate to Emory community members in various capacities- whether it be an environmental scientist, a Clairmont student interested in increased recycling, or a freshman who wants to eat more local foods.  I would argue that I use my Emory degree every single day.  What a useful major, one could argue! 

I often refer to my job as a “project/experiment/fellowship/opportunity” because it ends the same time that Emory’s class of 2010 will be graduating.  While this fact seems slightly overwhelming some days, I am so grateful for this valuable work experience and for the guidance I’ve received from some particular faculty, staff, and students.   What will I be doing next, you ask?  I think I’ll stick to the non-plan plan.  

-Sophie Slessinger ’09

Photo: Courtesy of Sophie Slessinger

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