Alumni Profile: Kelsey Kane-Ritsch ’16

Igor Heifetz ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Major: Anthropology

Professional role and organization: Project 55 Fellow and Charles Evans Future Conservation Leader at D&R Greenway Land Trust

How do you define sustainability?

The term sustainability is used extensively with a seeming variety of meanings, but to me sustainability is ensuring that all people (regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, and more) along with all living things (from the largest polar bears and the smallest frogs to the tallest redwoods and most delicate goldenrod) are able to meet their needs for survival today and in the continuing future. As an anthropology major, I had the opportunity to perform fieldwork in the northern villages of New Caledonia where I was exposed to a culture that taught me about the importance that respect plays in sustainability. Sustainability comes from respecting each other and entering into a respectful partnership with nature that will allow all living things to persevere.

How does your work relate to sustainability and how did Princeton prepare you for your role?

D&R Greenway Land Trust’s mission is to permanently preserve the natural lands of New Jersey in order to protect these essential open spaces from development.  In addition to preserving the land, D&R Greenway works to guarantee the public access to these areas and inspire a conservation ethic in the community through events and educational programs. As I mentioned, I see sustainability as a partnership with nature and D&R Greenway’s work ensures that we do not destroy that partnership through exploitation and development.

Just as it is difficult to define sustainability, it is equally challenging to achieve it.  Doing so necessitates a certain combination and balance of creativity, adaptation, and pragmatism.  I feel that Princeton prepares us for this role because it not only provides necessary technical skills, but also teaches a broad-minded perspective and innovative way of thinking. Cross-listed courses gave me the opportunity to approach environmental studies from a variety of perspectives, internship opportunities abroad provided first-hand involvement with a diverse range of environmental issues, and even artistic extracurricular activities helped to hone the creativity necessary to craft solutions and communicate effectively.

Now, as I work on education and outreach at D&R Greenway, I apply a lesson that I first learned while teaching on a PEI internship in Kenya. It is necessary to understand your audience and present a sustainability discussion in familiar terms – whether that is through actively uprooting invasive species in local forests or displaying environmental art in a gallery.  D&R Greenway’s sustainability goals would not be possible without appreciation and commitment from community members and fellow conservation organizations.  Consequently, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to apply the mélange of anthropological and environmental lessons I learned at Princeton and help D&R Greenway continue to grow its base that supports the fight for sustainability. 

What advice would you offer to students seeking to focus on or incorporate sustainability in their careers?

A career in sustainability can essentially be any career you want it to be. You don’t necessarily have to be developing new technologies in a lab or directly drafting environmental policy to make an impact.  Most organizations today (whether they actually operate sustainably or not) understand the importance of increasing their sustainability efforts and offer careers in this area. I recommend finding something you’re passionate about, whether it’s directly “environmental” or not, and then find ways to bring sustainability to that field!