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Featured Students: Megan Toth & Kelly Sky

ENVS Master’s student Megan Toth reports on her cooperative, interdisciplinary work in India.

“I am currently in Sirsi, Karnataka, India with my brilliant and wonderful colleague Kelly Sky. Together, we’re working to make a short film about a woman’s seed collective here called Vanastree (“women of the forest”) and to learn about broader issues facing the region. My master’s project will be a combination of this film and a write-up about Vanastree and an affiliate organization of theirs, the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE). Almost all of our filming will be done here in India, while the editing and writing will be done back home in Oregon.”

Kelly Sky is also an ENVS graduate student. Megan writes, “Working with another graduate student is fantastic. We’re able to bounce ideas off each other, take more risks, and think more creatively as a pair. Parsing out our solo work is tricky since we’re spending most of our time together, but it works out since there’s so much material to cover. We can work on the film together, but divide and conquer other questions. The whole experience has made me very passionate about collaborative work. Collaboration breeds creativity and action, and I think universities are in an especially unique position to bring people together and form solution-oriented communities.”

Megan and Kelly may be taking a different tack for their master’s degrees than the traditional thesis, but they aren’t alone — several ENVS graduate students are pursuing terminal projects. “I love that this program has allowed me to follow my dreams as they emerge, and to come to India… and to make a film! I’ve been able do something creative and different from what I ever imagined was possible,” Megan says. While it can be a challenge to design and complete a meaningful, manageable project, Megan and Kelly are experiencing great success and support from Vanastree and the local community.

On her time in India, Toth reflects, “In the rural areas, life is a little slower. There’s a greater reliance on farming and gardening for food, which is part of what we’re filming. The tropical forest, where Kelly and I are staying, is hot, green, lush, buggy, and alive. And both of us have gotten leech bites from the army of leeches that come after the monsoons, so we’re looking forward to the change of seasons,” she laughs.  “The forest is incredibly beautiful, especially with the peaceful rice paddies that dapple the countryside.”

However, the leeches aren’t the lasting impression Toth will take from her time in India. “The people here are fantastic. So many smiles, waves, and conversations in English and broken bits of Kannada (the state language of Karnataka). Many people have even invited us home for meals!”

Megan and Kelly plan to have their film wrapped up by the end of 2012. In the meantime, still photos can be seen at their shared flickr account.

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