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Featured Student: Gabby McDaniel

Gabby McDaniel freely admits that before discovering the UO Environmental Studies Program,  “I never had a strong desire to come to Oregon because of its lack of racial diversity and abundance of rain.” However, the ENVS Graduate Program’s interdisciplinary nature, as well as its “generous financial support” won her over, and she’s glad they did.

“The rain is not as bad as I expected. There are plenty of sunny days to keep you happy. The rain is also more of a mist, so you can still continue most activities,” she laughs. More importantly, though, she says, “I have found stronger feminist, women-of-color and queer-people-of-color communities here than anywhere before. The program has a fierce female graduate student body.”

As soon as Gabby entered the program, she was connected with her interim advisor, Kari Norgaard, and with the other ENVS graduate students Kari advises. “This really helped me have a safe space and get connected to people who were consciously thinking about race, sexuality, and class, especially in relation to environmental issues.”

Being a part of this supportive community, along with attending presentations by some of the UO’s “amazing speakers,” gave Gabby the confidence to do what she was most passionate about for her Master’s project. “[After attending] a great talk put on through the African Studies Lecture Series about a woman who has spent her life researching in Tanzania and China, I decided that I needed to switch my project to something that allowed me to go back to Tanzania because that is where my heart was calling me.”

Gabby is now hard at work putting the finishing touches on an environmental education and leadership program on tourism, society, and the environment which she will spend five months this summer and fall implementing and evaluating at the United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC) in Tanzania’s Arusha Providence.

Gabby didn’t always know that she wanted to do environmental justice work. “I first became interested in environmental studies in my freshman year of college during a seminar class on energy. During that class I decided to change my major from biochemistry to environmental science, and then eventually to geology.” Later, when she took an environmental sociology course, Gabby realized that she wanted to focus more on the sociological aspects of environmental issues in graduate school.

“I felt that environmental issues are the biggest issues we have to address right now. I decided that my geology background could help me stay grounded in the science of climate change but that I really wanted to be more connected to working with people, especially low income communities and communities of color.”

The flexibility of the ENVS Graduate Program has allowed Gabby to incorporate her diverse interests into her research. “My focus on environmental justice really spans multiple disciplines: sociology, ethnic studies, women’s and gender studies, environmental studies, and education,” she says. What’s more, the Program’s option do a self-designed terminal project has given Gabby the opportunity to integrate some of her current passions into her graduate education: when asked what she wants to do after she graduates she says with a smile, “return to Tanzania and continue working on this environmental education program as well as on more community work with the UAACC.”

She continues: “Eventually, I would like to return to the States to help with the environmental education system here, making it more accessible and relevant to all communities; however I have no idea when or if that will ever happen!”

Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.