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Whether she’s visiting an ecovillage in Ireland, conducting a research project on a community garden, or cleaning a boa constrictor tank in the Department of Biology, Amber Rudolph ’20 has been gaining a cornucopia of applied learning experiences, while pursuing a double major in biology and environmental studies at SUNY Potsdam.

Recently, Rudolph’s academic pursuits brought her to Cloughjordan, Ireland, as part of a sociology travel course with Dr. Heather Sullivan-Catlin titled Sustainable Communities: The Ecovillage Experience. Her participation in this course was made possible by the Dorf Applied Learning Endowment, established by Joy (MacDonald) ’58 and Richard Dorf (Hon. ’58) to enhance the capacity and accessibility of applied learning experiences at SUNY Potsdam. After first visiting the EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI) in Ithaca, N.Y.—one of the first, and also largest, ecovillage projects in the U.S.—Rudolph and her classmates hopped on a plane for the Emerald Isle to explore Cloughjordan, Ireland’s first ecovillage and the winner of several national and international awards for green communities. She visited during Biodiversity Week and was tasked with several service-learning projects like dismantling a greenhouse polytunnel, caring for oak tree saplings and digging a trench for a pipe to control water runoff from fields.

"It was great having Amber as part of my Sustainable Communities Ecovillage travel course," said Sullivan-Catlin. "She is an exceptional and insightful student with a wide variety of interests, so she was able to dive right in and find many connections to her various majors and minors (she has two of each!).  She totally embraced every aspect of the experiencefrom working on a new greenhouse to touring a peat bog to learning about traditional Irish culture.  On top of that, she is a down-to-earth and easy going person, so she was a lot of fun to have in the group as well."

The ecovillage provided a unique perspective for Rudolph to take her environmental studies background and look at sustainability and conservation through a sociological lens—working directly with the people living in Cloughjordan. “Everything had to do with getting to know the people and the culture over there as well. What stood out to me was the number of different things that people can do as a community, but also themselves, to be more sustainable,” Rudolph said.

Now she’s back at SUNY Potsdam, in her senior year. She’s taking on a leadership role as the new vice president of the Student Government Association and she lined up two internships: one with Ray Bowdish working in the WISER Greenhouse and one with Sullivan-Catlin focused on launching sustainability initiatives on campus. Rudolph will be researching best practices for student engagement in higher education sustainability efforts, working with the SGA to establish a fund for campus sustainability projects, and attending the AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) conference in October where she will be leading a workshop with Sullivan-Catlin on sustainable communities.

"This semester I am delighted to continue working with Amber in her role as a campus sustainability program assistant," said Sullivan-Catlin. "Amber is completing this project as a bridge between her Environmental Studies and Biology majors and her strong interest in sustainability."

“There are more opportunities at SUNY Potsdam than people think. I’m very much enjoying the experience, hence the reason I’m trying to cram so much into just a small amount of time,” Rudolph said.

During her first three years at SUNY Potsdam, Rudolph developed research and public speaking skills through her classes with Dr. Jessica Rogers, an assistant professor of environmental studies. In one class, Environmental Inquiry, she worked on an interdisciplinary research project to see how many students knew about Cecilie Garden and raise awareness about the food produced there. She presented her project during a poster presentation at the Learning and Research Fair—an annual event where more than 70 student research and creative projects are on display.

“It was interesting to me. I’ve gotten better at public speaking and talking to people one-on-one. It definitely gets easier as you go. Dr. Rogers did really well at preparing us for it because we did mini-presentations inside her class over and over again,” she said.

Rudolph’s passion for environmental studies and biology stemmed from her love for the outdoors. “I was drawn to environmental studies because being in nature and being outside have been a huge part of my life. I keep myself busy, but I always try to factor in time to just go outside and go hiking,” she said.

After Commencement next spring, Rudolph has her sights set on being a wildlife technician. “They work more in the field with conservation, whether it’s tracking or doing research with animals. I want to do that for a little bit, and then maybe long term become a park ranger. With my sustainability internship and a trip to Ireland, I’m not opposed to broadening my horizons more,” Rudolph said.

To learn more about the Department of Environmental Studies, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/depts/EnvStudies

To learn more about the Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/depts/socio

Article and photos by Jason Hunter

Amber has received three other donor-funded scholarships throughout her time at Potsdam:

  • SGA Shane T. Shaul Memorial Scholarship – Funded by SGA to support undergraduates with outstanding leadership qualities in an SGA-recognized student organization.
  • Bob Cerwonka Memorial Scholarship – Funded by Bob ’75 and Wendy Wagner (Hon. ’17) to support biology majors with an interest and appreciation of nature and the environment.
  • Thomas & Elizabeth Omohundro Environmental Studies Scholarship – Funded by faculty emeritus John Omohundro and his wife Susan to support environmental studies majors demonstrating academic promise and performance.