CEMUS Diaries Entry - week 43
Undergraduate student at The University of Texas at Austin, former CEMUS student
Jackie will graduate in spring 2018 with a Bachelor of Sciences and Arts in Neuroscience with Honors, and a minor called Food Culture in America. After she graduates, she will bike from Texas to Alaska to teach North American communities about cancer prevention.
For the entirety of my sentient life, I have always been fascinated by the apparent interconnectedness of the universe. Within every field of study are elements of another; you cannot study medicine without empathy and subjectivity; you cannot study atmospheric science without examining the oceans and marine life; and you cannot study the most grandiose intergalactic phenomena without first understanding the behavior of subatomic particles.
CEMUS is a bastion of interconnectedness. When I took the Global Challenges and Sustainable Futures course in the fall of 2016, we discussed the pressing issues man and nature face today: nuclear buildup and waste, climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation, global poverty and hunger, access to education, gender equality, and more. As teams of young and hopeful international students, we brainstormed constantly how to solve these problems, not only imagining the world we want to live in, but thinking critically and pragmatically about the steps necessary to get there. This thinking cannot be confined to a single discipline. All of these problems influence each other, and solving them requires the careful construction of an interdisciplinary puzzle.
I have chosen to view this puzzle through the lens of the food system. Every living organism on our planet eats. Once you start to scratch the surface of the food system, its interconnectedness is undeniable. Agriculture has an enormous effect on the environment; it is inextricably wrapped up with the rise of society, industrialism, and urbanization. Nutrition influences our moods, thoughts, and emotions. It shapes health and therefore plays (or should play) a large role in public health and healthcare. Food as a commodity forms the basis of all international trade. A person’s access to food, otherwise known as food security, greatly depends on socioeconomic status, race, geographic location, access to transportation, and national policy.
My CEMUS class last year culminated in a group project in which myself and three other women redesigned the agricultural system of Managua, Nicaragua for the year 2056. More recently in the United States, I have joined a research project called Texas Sprouts, which builds community gardens in elementary schools, provides weekly educational programs on gardening, cooking, and nutrition to students and their parents, and measures metabolic and behavioral changes over time. This project is synergistic with my work at CEMUS, where my group and I devised community and individual home gardening plans that cultivate an appreciation for nature and science at a young age, foster eating habits that promote wellbeing and longevity, and cooperate with local geographic features.
On a tangentially related note, in the summer of 2018 I will be biking from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska in the fight against cancer through an organization called Texas 4000. I see my involvement with Texas 4000 relating to CEMUS’s vision in a few ways. Einstein famously said, “The bicycle is a simple solution to some of the world’s most complicated problems.” To me, this means the bicycle’s power to diminish transportation-related carbon emissions, something Swedes know well. My teammates and I carry only essentials and work diligently all the way across North America to reduce our consumption and waste. Second, cancer and environmental health are not mutually exclusive. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, 223,000 lung cancer deaths worldwide in the year 2010 were caused by air pollution alone. Between 1944-1971, the Hanford Site nuclear waste center in Washington State leached radioactive isotopes into the Columbia River, causing 21 documented types of cancer in surrounding communities. The Prevent Cancer Foundation states that only 5% of cancers are purely hereditary – everything else depends on lifestyle choices and environmental factors. Current cancer research methods are incredible: targeted gene therapies, immunotherapy, radiation, etc. have saved countless lives. But the reality is that biomedical research and treatment is staggeringly expensive, and usually only benefits people in the upper middle class and above. There is no doubt in my mind that humans have the intellect and capacity to completely rid our world of cancer, but current research methods are only one piece of the puzzle. Truly conquering cancer requires upstream environmental regulations, policy changes, and cultural shifts – things that can only be accomplished by many people across diverse disciplines.
The Global Challenges and Sustainable Futures course truly changed my entire worldview. It was the first time I was scared to my core of the daunting problems our species and generation face. But most importantly, it opened my eyes to the fact that people everywhere are realizing this every day, and ultimately strive for the same balanced, healthy, peaceful future as I do. Our generation is quite literally tasked with saving the world; only with the utmost cooperation, diplomacy, imagination, and interconnectedness will we be able to achieve this. CEMUS has been rallying students for this cause in the last 25 years; here’s to a bright future in the next 25.
This is a part of the 25th Anniversary blog series “CEMUS Diaries: Stories from past, present and future”, where we invite present and former staff, students, work group members, associates, and other CEMUS friends to reflect on their time at CEMUS and shed critical light into the future. Read the other CEMUS Diaries entries here.