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Marisa Rudolph: A Journey to Farming and a Fulbright

Marisa Rudolph graduated in June 2018 majoring in environmental science and political science. She was one of eight winners of the Fulbright Scholarship, and she will be continuing her research in Ghana in September. While in college, she ran cross country, served as a Department Coordinator for Santa Clara Community Action Program (SCCAP), worked for the Food and Agribusiness Institute, and was a Global Social Benefit Fellow through the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship where she worked with Farmerline in Ghana.

Interview Highlights

Gavin Cosgrave: How was your transition into college? Was it ever difficult to balance running and school?


Marisa Rudolph: Definitely, yes. Being on a DI team here is basically like having a full-time job. The expectations you have for being at proactive six times a week, doing work on your own, team meetings, going to bed early, it’s hard to balance having academics and a social life. But, at the same time, it helped to create a really good community. We showed up a month early for preseason, so when I showed up, a teammate I had never met before was there to pick me up.


The first few years here I was really trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and having the team as a constant was super nice. Everyone on the team is academically motivated as well as sports motivated, so we’re always pushing each other to do good work. Despite it being difficult and time-consuming, it’s definitely worth it and made me a better student and better person in general.


GC: What organizations did you join to learn more about sustainability.


MR: The reason I ended up switching from engineering to environmental science was because of my Culture and Ideas course with professor John Farnsworth called “Nature and the imagination.” It was the first class I really loved here. Eventually he convinced me to switch over because I wasn’t feeling challenged enough with the basic science classes.


I ended up getting involved in green club, research and the environmental justice organization in SCCAP. SCCAP is really cool to help form a different type of community, but also because it teaches you a different language about social justice. It’s a group of people that are doing whatever they can outside of their normal commitments to educate themselves about what’s going on in the world.


When I was the leader of “Be Legit” (environmental group within SCCAP) we started a campaign called “Be more” which challenged Santa Clara’s administration to step up to its Jesuit values meaning how they look at their investments and how they look at certain incidents. It was a lot of educating other students about these issues. It developed a lot of leadership skills, but it made me realize full-time activism is not something I want to do. Because of that, I decided to apply for the department coordinator position which involves a lot more mentoring, and that has been a lot more rewarding and less exhausting.


GC: How did you get involved in other on-campus organizations?


MR: Between my freshman and sophomore year, I was supposed to go to El Salvador, but that got cancelled at the last minute, so I was scrambling to find an internship. I ended up working for the food and agribusiness institute and doing research on food waste. That was the first time I started working in agriculture. My grandparents were all farmers in North and South Dakota, so I had always seen agriculture as antiquated, but I ended up being a research assistant for agriculture. I ended up falling in love with the challenges and complexities of food systems.


For GSBF, I was placed with a company called Farmerline in Ghana. It’s an agricultural tech company with two main business streams. One of them is sending SMS messages to farmers about information, weather, services and market info. They were running a bunch of pilots to improve the lives of farmers such as providing loans that are based on a harvest schedule. They also had a business to business stream and they had a survey platform that they would license out to businesses for various purposes.


Our project was to go and talk to farmers and business partners and thought about connecting the social impact for the farmers and the businesses. We came up with these five case studies that showed how the survey platforms were benefitting the partners. That was super interesting and fun and challenging.


Go to 12:58 to hear how Marisa helped to integrate gender issues into Farmerline’s pilot and how that idea ended up becoming the basis for her Fulbright.


GC: What are you going to be up to after graduation?


MR: I’m actually moving back to Ghana in September. As of right now, my research plan is to look at how effective different types of development aid and their effectiveness at creating agency for women. The idea behind “agency” is that it’s a step farther than empowerment in that it creates an environment for women in which they are autonomous, confident and able to access resources by themselves and not rely on other men. I wrote my thesis as a precursor to this and argued that empowerment is a simplistic way of looking at things.


GC: If you could send a message to everyone in the United States, what would you want to say?


MR: I would probably say to think about how everyone has their own story and take a moment to listen to it with understanding rather than defensiveness.

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