First EARTH graduates to enroll in one-year Master’s degree at Chatham University

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: January 27th, 2016

EARTH University’s rigorous and comprehensive education provides graduates with the skills and experience necessary to find or create employment, in addition to a solid academic foundation. Many of our alumni go on to earn advanced degrees in diverse areas – business management, sustainability and soil science, to name just a few.

Issa and Gina enjoy a workshop about native corn species at Chatham.

Issa and Gina enjoy a workshop about native corn species at Chatham.

Last fall, Issa Secaira (’14, Guatemala) and Gina Beauzil (’15, Haiti) enrolled in the Master’s of Arts in Food Studies program at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They are the first two alumni to benefit from the University’s exclusive agreement with the Falk School of Sustainability at Chatham, which gives EARTH graduates the opportunity to obtain a Master’s in Sustainability or Food Studies in just one year instead of two.

We caught up with Issa and Gina to learn more about their experience:

Why did you choose Food Studies?
Gina: I remember the first time I heard about the partnership EARTH-Chatham, I was doing my internship at “Naturaleza Viva” in Argentina, an agro-ecological farm where they have such an interesting way of producing, processing and distributing their food locally. At the same time, the principles on that farm lead me to see sustainable practices around food as a model lifestyle that usually tends to impact positively the participants such as the farmer and the consumer. Thus the curiosity for a deeper understanding of the whole system connected me automatically with this Master’s in Food Studies since the first time I read about it. I wanted to go further in the exploration of food as a system, the challenges in access to it and to think critically about possible solutions. So far, I’m very glad and satisfied.

What specifically about Chatham’s program that made you want to study there?
Issa: I was attracted to Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies because it emphasizes a holistic approach to food systems; I was passionate about getting a broader and comprehensive perspective. I also liked the program because it offers a wide range of opportunities to gain not only intellectual but also practical experience, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption.

What are your living accommodations like? 
Gina: Chatham University has three campuses. We are living in the new one called Eden Hall campus, and it’s so interesting because it offers a peaceful space to be more in contact with nature. They are still in the building process; once it’s done, it will be a more interactive space with connections and activities that can benefit the students in general and the community. Right now, we are around 25 students living in Orchard Hall which has been built sustainably from the ground up, with geothermal wells, waste water management system, green buildings and with the concept of a living laboratory, which means you can actually see certain structures through the walls and gain a better understanding of the mechanisms.

Do you feel like your education at EARTH prepared you well for your Masters?
Issa: I feel that EARTH University throughout its educational model with its four pillars and integrating intellectual and practical experience, prepared me well not only for my Master’s but also for my life. At EARTH, I learned that sustainability is possible and it’s the right way to go. Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” As an agent of change, I feel committed to be that change and work toward sustainability and the welfare of the whole.

How has it been studying in English after four years of classes in Spanish?
Issa: Studying in English has been a big challenge. Sometimes it is very hard to communicate ideas and thoughts. I have to pay close attention to follow conversations, and classes and assignments take longer. However, I feel I am learning a lot and growing personally and professionally. Being fluent in English is a very important skill to have nowadays, which will allow me to communicate with English speakers all over the world, express my ideas in a clearly and concise manner and will help me to have a broader impact.

What has been your favorite part of the experience so far?
Gina: One of my favorite parts of the experience was in my urban design class last semester. Our team built an aquaponic system with the goal of creating a potential solution to food insecurity for a low-income community in Pittsburgh. I got to explore and experiment with colleagues from different backgrounds a possible way to feed people. The interesting part of the program is that I feel surrounded by people that aspire to a better and sustainable world. So while we think globally about food, it’s relevant to question our practices in order to improve constantly. In addition, it is very interesting to learn more how to grow food in a climate where there are four marked seasons, different from the tropical region at EARTH.

From left to right: Edgar Alvarado (EARTH University Dean), Issa Secaira, profesor Julieta Mazzola, Gina Beauzil and professor Kent McLeod.

From left to right: Edgar Alvarado (EARTH University Dean), Issa Secaira, profesor Julieta Mazzola, Gina Beauzil and professor Kent McLeod.

Would you recommend the program to fellow EARTH alumni?
Gina: Of course! I would say if you’re interested in knowing more and thinking creatively and critically about cultural, social, economic, political aspects of food; this is the place to be. There is also the possibility for the Master’s in Sustainability which is interesting as well.

Issa: I totally recommend this program to EARTH alumni. It has broadened my perspective about food systems and sustainability. At the same time, it has given me intellectual and practical skills in order to propose alternatives to current issues related to food and agriculture. You will grow personally, professionally, and at the same that you will meet wonderful people and enjoy a lot!

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