Lindsey Nystrom, a first year student from Virginia, is majoring in environmental equity. If you can’t find that major listed in UNC Asheville’s course catalog, that’s because Lindsey came up with it herself.
“That means looking at the intersection of social justice and climate science, and for me personally it means looking especially at how climate change will affect marginalized communities,” Lindsey explained.
Lindsey has always had a passion for the planet, and in high school had assumed she would follow that passion by majoring in ecology. But a UNC Asheville class in sociology and an internship at UNC Asheville’s NEMAC (National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center) changed her direction.
“Doing that research and being a part of that process really helped me to kickstart my passion and showed me that there is no climate science without social justice,” Lindsey says.
That understanding developed through her work with NEMAC’s coastal resilience assessment project, which put Lindsey’s focus on the intersection between the natural environment and the human environment.
“If there is a park that is really low lying, and the soils are impermeable, it’s a really high-density population in the area and it’s in a low-income neighborhood, all of those would play a part of the fact that that area would have a more difficult time recovering from a severe climate event,” Lindsey explains. Part of Lindsey’s internship involves identifying these areas as potential spots for “resilience hubs.”
For Lindsey, looking at the world from a perspective that includes both sociology and natural science just makes sense. “We learned how our wolf population declined because we told stories about wolves,” Lindsey says. “That was just shocking to me. Giving environmental background and historical context really changed how I saw the world around me, and from there, everything had that lens on it.”
That lens helps Lindsey see problem solving approaches from a new perspective.
“That’s one of the reasons I love NEMAC: we are pragmatic but optimistic in our approach,” Lindsey says. “We recognize the inevitability of climate change, but we’re saying there is a way to look at the data…and show that to people who have the resources to make a change.”
In between classes and interning at NEMAC, Lindsey also finds time to work as an EcoRep with the Student Environmental Center, where she’s been leading monthly upcycling workshops—turning worn out t-shirts into tote bags, for example. She also makes sure to budget some time for herself, whether that means hanging out solo in a hammock on the Quad on a sunny day, or checking out campus events like the musical EchoFest with her friends. It’s part of the college experience she recommends for all first year students.
“Try something you’ve never done before,” Lindsey says. “Make time for fun, and really push yourself in a way that also pushes your boundaries for enjoyment of life.”
Lindsey hopes to go into the Peace Corps after she graduates, and then do GIS (Geographic Information Systems) work for a nonprofit or applied research company in Washington, D.C.—although, as a first year student, she recognizes that her plans might change a few times between here and graduation.
“Just thinking about how much I’ve changed this year, I’ve got a lot of changing to do in the future,” Lindsey says.