In October, alumni, students, family, and friends joined the WashU Engage Chicago Network for a sustainability panel discussion featuring Kunsang Lama, class of 2021, Phil Valko, AB ’03, Chris Wheat, AB ’03, and Kady McFadden, AB ’10.
Raised in Prok Nubri, a remote village situated in the Himalayas of Nepal, Kunsang expressed how the environment is a big part of her identity and how she grew up. Intimately familiar with her mountain, Kunsang fondly recollects “hiking up the Himalayan hills and valleys every other day since the fourth grade to visit [her] single mother in the village.” She also remembers making toys out of corn husks and bamboo sticks. Kunsang explored nature as she grew up in Nepal, playing with its seemingly endless possibilities.
As a WashU Outing Club co-leader double majoring in anthropology and environmental studies, Kunsang actively continues to pursue her passion on campus. When she applied to the Career Center’s sustainability Road Show, a two-day travel opportunity connecting students to alumni and environmental organizations in Chicago, Kunsang received an offer to participate in the WashU Engage panel discussion.
“I was a little reluctant at first,” she shared. “Presenting alongside such accomplished alumni seemed intimidating, but with some encouragement and mentorship from John Crosby [Chair of WashU Engage: Chicago, ‘AB 69] I became inspired to share what I knew. I felt like my perspective was really valuable.” Further enthused by the turnout of 79 similarly impassioned attendees, Kunsang discussed her family’s relationship with nature through subsistence farming and addressed the consequences of climate change. “If it rains too much or if there is a drought,” she posed to the audience, “what will it mean for my mom’s crops?”
The event ended with a networking session. Kunsang spoke with alumni about her career interests and left with excitement for the future. “It’s pretty inspiring to consider how my soft skills in anthropology apply to many different career fields, including policy, science, culture, and community and sustainable development.” When a recent alumnus recommended she enroll in Environmental Problem Solving with professor Beth Martin, Kunsang finally felt “ready to take my minor in interdisciplinary environmental analysis more seriously; I wanted to be challenged.”
Kunsang appreciated the nuanced and extensive experiences shared at the WashU Engage Chicago panel discussion and is looking forward to finding more ways to get creative with nature. She hopes to be involved “in this kind of valuable community conversation again… Ultimately, this experience was a call to action and a reminder that sustainability is more than simply a mindset—it is a reality everyone must work together to implement.”
WashU Engage is an initiative co-led by the Gephardt Institute and the Washington University Alumni Association. This series of civic and community engagement opportunities serves local communities and encourages alumni to engage in the cities where they live and work.
Learn more about WashU Engage and get connected here.