Beyond her two runs as SUNY Student Assembly sustainability committee chair, Alivia Sheffield has fought throughout her college career to make sustainability a university-wide priority. Sheffield spends much of her time seeking answers to eliminate environmental threats as a long-time conservationist and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry student.
Last month, Sheffield brought her quest for environmental justice to Washington D.C. at Defend Our Future’s National Climate Leadership Summit. SUNY COBALT caught up with her to learn more about the trip.
How did you get involved in this trip?
Our Vice President Bridget Doyle got the initial email and sent it to me and our President, saying, “this might be something that you’re interested in.” So, I decided to go through the application process and I got selected.
What was new to you that you haven’t explored as far as environmental initiatives go?
I wouldn’t say that I haven’t explored things, but I believe seeing the other side is important. Climate change is kind of a nonpartisan issue, but realizing that there are two sides to it, and even though that our end goal is to stop climate change and fix what we’ve destroyed, knowing that there are two different paths to get there with the same end result, is something that I haven’t realized. And taking that into consideration with my research and moving forward as chair of sustainability, you have to realize that there are multiple paths to get to the same goal.
To follow up on that, what has been some of your previous research?
I go to an environmental school so SUNY ESF is very climate-focused, for lack of a better term. All of our English papers are about climate change and the results are heavy. But you also have to do some of your own research, that’s been primarily, “Google Scholar, tell me about climate change and the effect it may have on agriculture and ecosystems and how it affects humans and how there are environmental injustices.” So, it’s fueled by my education, but also my own passion.
How did you become an environmentalist in general?
Well, I became a vegetarian when I was in seventh grade and by researching vegetarianism I was able to what kind of impact one person can have on the environment. Being a vegetarian is one of the easiest things you can do for the environment and it’s also super impactful. So, researching that, I was like, “Wow, I can do a lot to help the environment.” And then from there, I decided that this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life so I took environmental science at Jamestown Community College and realized that conservation biology kind of incorporates humans, the environment, and wildlife, so I realized that that was something that wanted to do. It all started with me having a lifestyle change and then realizing I could really have an impact in this.
And what kind of takeaways from this conference can be applied in SUNY?
So, I think it was pretty much across the board that, whatever walk of life you came from, we all agreed that higher education can play a really important role in protecting our planet. I think broadening our networks is important. SUNYSA (and SUNY in general) is kind of a rare structure where we have 64 campuses united. It’s not normal. But kind of just realizing how educating that amount of students can play an important role and seeing how other campuses do it [sic]. Other campuses have sustainability courses in their general education requirements which SUNY doesn’t. That’s something that maybe we should take into consideration. I guess, just realizing that we play a really important role and how we are the next generation to take on the planet. We don’t own it. That a really important thing to realize.
What kinds of connections did you make while you were there?
I made all sort of great connections. Even though there are private schools and public schools and there are public schools that only have one school and there are public schools that have many schools, just making those connections and realizing that I can help them as much as they can help me. There were campuses that had things we have. There are things that one campus, ESF for example, might be doing really well on all stages of sustainability and there are others that aren’t really doing well at putting sustainability across the board as a priority. You realize that we have a lot of knowledge on our campus that we can also share with student and student governments that aren’t in New York.