News

December 7, 2010

From New Zealand to Sweden, Jessika Luth ’01 Begins Study of Environmental Policy

A world citizen. A teacher. An environmental activist. A park ranger. All of these roles and a purposeful journey from California, Pennsylvania, and Washington to Australia, England, New Zealand, and on to Sweden, came together in the next step for Jessika Luth ’01.

In September, Luth began work on a master’s in environmental management and policy (EMP) at Lund University in Sweden. “I’ve been interested and involved in environmental issues for a long time,” she says. “I decided on this program because it has a multi-disciplinary approach focused on solutions and prevention rather than just studying the problems.”

Luth, most recently assistant head of science at Southland Girls’ High School in Invercargill, New Zealand, is participating in the first semester as a distance learning project. The goal is to ensure that everyone has a shared background in environmental science, economics, and technical systems before arriving on campus in Sweden for advanced study.

“My 26 classmates are from all over the world,” Luth exclaims. “For our Skype discussions, we split into groups of five. My recent group represented four continents. We are all from different backgrounds as well–engineers, lawyers, business managers. This is great because we learn from each other and our professors about all facets of environmental problems and the full scope of available solutions.” She explained that one aspect of the degree program involves working in teams to apply what they’ve learned in projects for clients such as businesses and local governments.

When Luth left Lafayette she worked for a summer season as a national park ranger at Lake Roosevelt in Washington and then for a teaching program called Readak that involved travel throughout the United States and to the Czech Republic and Australia. “The second trip to Oz convinced me that I wanted to live there,” she says, “so I moved and obtained a graduate diploma in education from the University of Melbourne and began teaching at Haileybury College.” Luth spent spring semester of her junior year at Lafayette at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

At Haileybury (a secondary school), Luth taught history and geography but also English and mathematics to ninth-graders. “The students were involved in a special program in which the geography component was taught in a 10-day outdoor education camp each term and a 10-day city excursion in the last term. This program is what attracted me to teach at this school at this level.”

Luth, whose current environmental activity includes volunteering with the local community nursery and Forest and Bird (http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/), was stirred to action by her experience in the park service. “My fiancée, Jens Richter, and I help plant native plants, count yellow-eyed penguins, maintain nature trails, and march against mining in the national parks.”

While in Melbourne, Australia, she was involved with MarineCare in planting native trees and other conservation activities around Rickett’s Point near where she lived. She also did organizational work with Australian Conservation Fund, such as preparing for former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s visit.

Her concern about the environment led her to seeking a way to be more involved in finding solutions. “Education is a big part of that,” she says, “but there is more to it. My first thought was environmental law so I completed a semester at the University of Melbourne law school and while I liked it, it seemed the long way around to policy, which is what I was really interested in. Then I found the EMP program at Lund—exactly what I was looking for.”

Where does this adventuresome spirit arise? “My mother is from Manhattan and my father is from St. Louis, and they met while going to college in Fairbanks, Alaska. I was born in Missouri, and we lived in Colorado, and then I went to high school in California,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to live in other parts of the world, beginning with moving to the East Coast to go to college.”

Luth spent a January interim abroad in Kenya and Tanzania, and while teaching at Haileybury took part in a working holiday program to go to Newcastle, England, to teach for four months. “I was always a big Brit Lit fan so it was amazing to see all the things you read about in books there in real life,” she says. “I got to attend my first Guy Fawkes Bonfire, and I biked and walked through the Northumberland countryside seeing Hadrian’s Wall and old English estates.”

Luth, who was a Marquis Scholar and received an A.B. in both history and in geology, won the James F. Bryant ’40 Excellence Award for swimming. The award is presented to a junior for high academic achievement, lettering in a varsity sport, and involvement in community service. She still swims but in open water settings and has been playing soccer. “I even ran the Melbourne Marathon but I am not a serious runner so that was a once in a lifetime event.”

“The good rapport that I developed with my professors at Lafayette has had an ongoing influence on me,” says Luth. “It was this that made me feel confident about returning to school to get my master’s ten years later.” She said that D.C. Jackson, professor of history, and Dru Germanoski, Van Artsdalen Professor and head of geology and environmental geosciences, were especially supportive.

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