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Profile: Katherine Quinn-Shea

Wednesday, May. 5, 2010

When Katherine Quinn-Shea decided to run with fellow senior Sean Brachvogel for the top two positions in student government last year, she saw the executive branch as a vehicle to promote sustainability and initiatives that would get students thinking about their impact on the earth. Looking back on her term as vice president of Associated Student Government of Santa Clara University, it's easy to see how Katherine has turned her vision into action.

She first approached Santa Clara Sustainability Coordinator Lindsey Cromwell Kalkbrenner over the summer after deciding to include a “sustainability tip of the week” in her weekly campus-wide updates. Katherine’s goal with this topic is to find a tip “relevant to college students” that will allow them to realize how taking just one small step towards living sustainably can help them integrate sustainable habits into their lifestyle.

It is this holistic, lifestyle-based approach to sustainability which Katherine believes in the most. The psychobiology major sees sustainability as a “big-picture” commitment that must be achieved from “a personal realization”. This realization came for her in part by hearing the statistic that if every American were to refrain from eating meat once a week, it would have the impact of taking eight million cars off the roads. That such a small personal sacrifice could have such a meaningful impact, Katherine thought, made sustainability not only a worthy cause, but a personal duty as well.

Katherine’s interest in the environment began, she says, during her freshman year at Santa Clara when she learned about the Solar Decathlon, in which a team from the university's School of Engineering took third place in an international competition to build sustainable homes. Two years later, when the team was hard at work on the 2009 competition, Katherine had the chance to work with the Solar Decathalon in her Sustainability Outreach class. Having recently returned from studying abroad in Kenya, where she worked on local sustainable development projects, her knowledge of and passion for sustainability was growing, and the decision to run for office was made.

Since becoming vice president, Katherine has certainly followed through on her pledge to use the funds available to her to promote sustainability. Her major project in this regard has been Living Green in the Neighborhood, an energy-saving competition for off-campus houses. Living Green is comprised of eight off-campus houses which are working to conserve their energy and water use. Resources help them with ideas for how to reduce their utility bills and the lure of monthly prizes, such as CFL bulbs, assist them in saving even more. The competition, which measures total percentage reduction over three months, will end with the winner being compensated for their house’s energy bills over the time of the competition. In partnering with the Office of Sustainability to promote and carry out Living Green, Katherine hopes to create a competition which will last after she leaves office. In fact, Living Green is a culmination of the two platforms on which she and Brachvogel ran: sustainability and connecting off-campus students to Santa Clara student life.

Like any good campus leader, Katherine truly lives the values she hopes to instill in the university community. Having recently signed the Graduation Pledge for Social and Environmental Responsibility, the soon-to-be graduate is headed off to Chicago this summer to work with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. She will be working at Lakeview Pantry, a food bank which stresses forming a connection to those it serves by conducting services like home deliveries. In keeping her ambitious and energetic pace, Katherine is likely to bring the same dedication and creativity to Lakeview Pantry as she has to the Santa Clara community.

Written by Hannah Slocum, '11, Sustainability Intern.

Tags: Education and Research, Profiles, SCU Alumni, Student Life



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