Meet undergraduate Wawa Gatheru

Wawa Gatheru

Wanjiku (Wawa) Gatheru is a junior majoring in environmental studies with a minor in global studies. Prior to arriving at UConn, Wawa spent a year in Thailand as a Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Scholar of the U.S. State Department. This experience solidified her commitment towards culturally-competent conservation. At UConn, Wawa is actively involved in promoting a greener campus and involved in a variety of different clubs and activities.

What attracted you to UConn? What ultimately attracted me to UConn was the amount of opportunities provided to undergraduate students. I applied to college while on exchange in Thailand and really craved the ability to attend a large institution that would cater to my educational and extracurricular needs. Additionally, UConn is known internationally for its environmental programming, and I knew attending would provide me with an edge in my chosen field.

What is your major, and why did you choose it? I am an environmental studies major with a minor in global studies. I chose environmental studies due to the interdisciplinary nature of the major and the flexibility it provides me in my educational experience. My major allows me to develop a holistic understanding of environmental issues, while providing a strong foundation for more specialized concentrations. My minor allows me to focus on international conservation and cross-cultural competency in environmental development work.

Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? As a future public servant, I have worked to ensure that service and advocacy are at the forefront of my involvement. As the vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), I get to advocate on the behalf of students and promote positive administrative collaboration. USG has also provided me a platform to advance sustainability initiatives on campus, such as the environmental literacy requirement and Ban the Bottle. The organization has given me countless opportunities to understand how the university works and has allowed me to create close relationships with students and administrators alike. In fact, it was through USG that I learned about the Office of Environmental Policy, which is the incredible office I intern at!

Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. I have the unique opportunity to work as an intern at the Office of Environmental Policy (OEP). UConn is number three on the Sierra Clubs Cool Schools List, which means I get to be at the forefront in higher education sustainability. As an intern, I lead in developing, conducting and analyzing the Environmental Awareness Survey, our Green Office Certification Program and various outreach programs. Working at the OEP has given me a chance to be involved in many green initiatives on campus and has provided me the chance to make a difference on campus.

I am also a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar at UC Santa Cruz! This program is a multi-summer experience that emphasizes field research, leadership and professional training. This past summer, I spent my time conducting research across several UC Reserves and National Parks and creating a report on the diversity in the California National Park visitation. This program has given me a second family of environmentalists and has really solidified my commitment to conservation and working to diversify the field.

What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? Time management!! There is always something to do and/or get involved with at UConn, and figuring out how to best concentrate my time and effort has definitely been a learning experience.

When do you expect to graduate? What then? I plan to graduate in May 2020. After that, I would like to join the Peace Corps as a Coastal Resource Management Community Outreach Facilitator or peruse another service-oriented international experience.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? This past year, I have been blessed to receive an IDEA grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research! During the summer after my freshman year, I was lucky enough to join the community nutrition lab of Associate Professor Amy Mobley. This lasted for a year-and-a-half. It was through that experience that my passion for food access issues emerged and my eventual IDEA grant project was born. My project was the UConn Access to Food Effort, which is an initiative to quantify food insecurity at UConn and to create a locally sourced food pantry on campus. This project has allowed me to couple my passion for the environment and food access, as it emphasizes the importance of local food systems and connectivity to the earth. We hope to start a campus-wide conversation about food insecurity, action and advocacy. Be on the lookout for various events, workshops and pop-up food pantries that I, along with my wonderful partner, Abhishek Gupta, will host this year!

By Thomas Krumel