For Sociology and Art History major Rhianna McConnell, environmental justice is an essential part of her future. She wants to work for an environmental justice/protection non-governmental organization, or, alternatively, in an environmental policy setting. Truly, it depends upon what happens with the job market, but her main wish is to work full-time for the next year before she applies to graduate programs.
To further her studies, she is primarily interested in the University of Colorado, Boulder Masters of the Environment program, though she is also looking into the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, and a few others. The focus of her postgraduate studies will be on environmental protection, policy, justice, and so forth.
McConnell had a very busy four years with Whittier College, which started with the enrollment process. While choosing where she wanted to go to college, McConnell narrowed her choices down to Whittier College and a large state university. Given that she wanted the small, liberal arts college experience, WC felt like the better match. A tour of the campus solidified her choice to attend the College.
In her first year, McConnell was the department assistant for Religious Studies; currently, she is the assistant for Sociology/Anthropology. She helped lead three clubs, being the Media Representative of Improv and InterClub Council Representative of the Drama Club in her second year, and, this year, holding the title of Food Recovery Network Treasurer. In 2019, she studied abroad in three different places: Greece and Rome (which she visited on the same Jan Term trip) and Alcalá de Henares, a city outside of Madrid, Spain.
Just last summer, she worked with Associate Professor of Sociology, Julie Collins-Dogrul, on a research project, which she will be presenting this month at the Pacific Sociological Association conference. Even more recently, in January, she presented her research on international climate change action at the Cultural Studies Association conference. Currently, she is the preceptor for the social research methods class, and a member of both Alpha Kappa Delta (the national honors society for sociology) and Sigma Delta Pi (the national honor society for Spanish). On top of all of that, she has worked multiple new student orientations throughout the years. “I feel very blessed to have gotten to go to a college where I had these opportunities!” said McConnell.
One of McConnell’s main sources of support has been her advisor, Professor Collins-Dogrul. She has helped McConnell since her first year: assisting her through her sociology major, with study abroad programs, and many other aspects of the Whittier experience. She also received a lot of support from Associate Professor of Sociology, Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez, in regards to both her senior research and her current job. Assistant Professor of Arts and Visual Culture Katherine Albers supported McConnel through her senior project for Art History, which she did last year. “My friends at Whittier have been big supporters of me as well, and have become like another family,” said McConnell.
No four years at college is free of hardship. McConnell tends to be shy when meeting new people, so it took a while for her to feel like she fit in at Whittier College. Throughout her first year, she did her best to take advantage of various opportunities, and she found her Whittier College family through these experiences. Her personal life presented some challenges, as well. A few of her family members fell sick while she was in school, but the support she received from the Whittier community allowed her to healthily balance a difficult home environment and school work. “I have made a lot of really close friends who have been very supportive, and a few of my professors have done a lot for me and supported me through those times,” said McConnell.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic challenged her as well. McConnel had not planned on finishing her third year via Zoom, or completing her fourth year in a remote environment, and it has not been at all ideal. She has been applying for fellowships at other campuses, but, unfortunately, many were cancelled. Once again, Professor Collins-Dogrul helped her out in the area, allowing McConnell to help with her research over the summer so that McConnell could get more experience despite the sudden cancellations of her opportunities.
For current Whittier College students, McConnell suggests looking for opportunities within the community. A lot of what McConnell has done at WC was thanks to her reading emails sent by the College or walking into offices on campus (which is, unfortunately, unattainable now, but may be plausible in the 2021 – 22 school year). Her extreme experiences, like her study abroad trips, were the most incredible, but she was able to attend cool events nearer to campus simply because she heard about them from professors or peers.
“I also think it is good to keep in mind that asking for help is okay,” said McConnell. Reaching out to ask about opportunities on campus was another way McConnell was able to achieve so much. She encourages fellow students of WC to do the same in order to make the most of the college experience.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Rhianna McConnell