A Reflection on My Summer Fellowship.

By Anna Ganu
Future Leader Fellow, Earth Economics

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Heroes surround us. The staff at Earth Economics are like those hidden heroes working behind the scenes to protect our precious natural resources in ways many will never know. Their hidden lair is tucked between two small buildings in Tacoma, so unassuming that if you walked by, you would not even see it. Inside works a team of hidden heroes, hailing from all fields and backgrounds, individuals who possess courage, selflessness, humility, patience, and care for the environment. 

Working for Earth Economics was far more than just a job, and right away I was able to sense that from everyone. They do what they do because they love it, and I aspire to work someday in an environment like that. One of my favorite things about the office is the weekly staff meetings. The meetings opened up conversations around what others are working on during the week as well as opening the floor up for interns like me to present my findings and interests. The most amazing thing, however, is that I was able to experience what it feels like to be seated together among different individuals that brought such diverse expertise and connections to the table. The collaboration among them is the definition of a team. No one ever felt alone on a project, because if they ever needed help or additional support, they could look around the table at a room full of people willing to help. 

As I start my sophomore year of college with the mindset that I am going to get a degree as an expert in biology, I have been faced with this uncertainty of not knowing what I was going to put that degree toward. I knew that many use their degree as a foundation to later enter into a medical program or to continue on as a lab researcher; but as great as those professions are, I did not see myself following either of those paths. Working at Earth Economics has shown me that there are no limits on how and where I can apply my degree. And, most importantly, I know I can have a job that I really love. 

Every week, I learned something new, and as I became comfortable, I began to explore more things for myself and ask questions. I was blessed to work with four intelligent women (Angela, Corrine, Cheri, and Jessie) whose educational backgrounds included Biology, Mathematics, GIS, Economics, English, and Communications. As I continued to collaborate and learn from them and get the support I needed, I was able to start my own research and report on the economic and social value of community gardens. My report allowed me to collect information on the importance of community gardens and how they function as green infrastructure, providing important water infiltration services along with a range of additional social, health, and cultural benefits to communities. 

I was familiar with many of the  benefits of community gardens from a previous mentoring program that I participated in as a high school student here in Tacoma. However, at that program, we did not dig deep into how a community garden can function as green infrastructure, or how these gardens can encourage a sense of identity and individuality. Through this research, I was able to broaden my knowledge on the ecosystem service benefits, stormwater infiltration benefits, and the cost-effectiveness of a community garden. I calculated infiltration rates, how much water different soil types can filter in an average garden bed, and the cost of growing food versus buying it. In addition, I researched implementation of different green infrastructure plans in cities around the country. This work helped me connect to the bigger picture of what Earth Economics does to bring awareness to communities and open up conversations to change policies, all aiming to promote sustainability for a better tomorrow. 

Earth Economics is doing important work that many might overlook. I am so glad I got the opportunity not only to see what they do, but to be a part of it as their first Future Leaders Fellow. Learning from and collaborating with the talented people that make up the Earth Economics team has shown me what my opportunities and potential really are.