Professional SpotlightSpotlight

When Genna Reed discovered her love for biology after whale watching in Cape Cod as a kid, she pursued that passion in high school, college, and graduate school. It wasn’t until Genna took an environmental policy class that she realized she wanted to shift gears from science to policy and advocate for environmental change. Genna started working toward her Environmental Policy master’s degree the fall after graduating from college.

What we love about Genna’s story is that when she recognized what made her excited, she followed those instincts. When a class re-awakened her interest in environmental policy, she turned that passion into further learning and ultimately, a career. Genna now works as a researcher at Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based non-governmental organization and consumer rights group that focuses on corporate and government accountability relating to food, water, and fishing. She spends her time researching and writing materials to support Food & Water Watch’s campaigns, specifically their GMO (genetically modified organism) labeling campaign.

Genna provides insight into how she spends her days, what it’s like being a researcher and advocate for the environment, and what the important things to know are when it comes to genetically engineered food. We’re inspired by how determined, passionate, and knowledgeable Genna is, and she really captures the ‘Seizing Your Youth’ spirit.

Name: Genna Reed
Education: B.A. in Biology and Psychology and M.A. in Environmental Policy Design from Lehigh University
Follow: @gennaclare / foodandwaterwatch.org

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Genna Reed: Youth is an advantageous time in a person’s life because individuals are most open to exciting opportunities and big changes, while also being resilient enough to manage these changes with ease. This flexibility begins to fade with age. It is absolutely essential that young folks take advantage of their freedom and explore new passions and interests whenever they can. Unless you happen to be Benjamin Button, you’re not getting any younger, so take advantage of it!

CJ: You majored in Biology and Psychology from Lehigh University. How did you decide what to major in?

GR: I have been very passionate about biology ever since going on my first whale watch in Cape Cod as a kid and becoming an instant die-hard humpback whale advocate. I was always more interested in my science and math courses during high school and carried that with me into college where my course load was predominantly biology and calculus courses. I was on the pre-med path until my senior year when I took an environmental policy course that re-awakened my interest in advocating for environmental change.

CJ: You also received your master’s degree in Environmental Policy Design from Lehigh University. What inspired you to go back to school to receive this degree?

GR: I realized at the end of my senior year of college that I wanted to shift gears from science to policy. I had worked at an environmental chemistry lab at the Meadowlands in New Jersey for two summers extracting very high levels of pesticides and other contaminants out of soil and water samples. I realized just how badly humans had polluted the environment and how essential it is that our society work to clean it up. Although I enjoyed working in a lab, I wanted to help work on concrete changes at the policy level. It just so happened that Lehigh had started up an Environmental Policy master’s program that seemed like a great fit for me. I began the master’s program the fall after graduating from undergrad at Lehigh.

CJ: You worked as an intern at the Wildlands Conservancy where you led environmental education programs and handled live animals including turtles, lizards, snakes, and owls. What were your biggest takeaways from this experience?

GR: I really loved working at the Wildlands Conservancy because I got to share my excitement about the natural world and environmental conservation with kids. I learned how incredibly important it is to expose children to environmental experiences at a young age and to teach them how they fit into the biological cycles and what they can do to help protect the environment. It’s really fun to channel kids’ energy and enthusiasm into becoming mini environmental stewards!

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CJ: You were a National Network for Environmental Management Studies (NNEMS) Fellow at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. What was this experience like and what did you do as a Fellow?

GR: While I was completing my master’s thesis on wetland regulation and preservation, I was lucky enough to get a temporary fellowship position in Philadelphia with the EPA’s wetland division. I was able to apply things I was learning about wetland biological assessments into the policy world and to see firsthand how regulations are enacted. I spent my time with the EPA comparing and contrasting different ways to assess the health of streams and wetlands in order to find the best way to determine how these bodies of water can be protected from pollution and degradation.

CJ: You now work as a researcher for Food & Water Watch where your focus is on new technology issues within the food system. What does your role as researcher entail?

GR: I spend most of my time researching and writing materials (reports, issue briefs, fact sheets, op-eds, letters to the editor, blogs and testimony) that support our campaigns, specifically our GMO labeling campaign. I also work on federal comments on issues relevant to genetically engineered crops and animals and present our research at certain science and policy forums, stakeholder meetings and public hearings.

CJ: What are the three most important skills you need as a researcher?

GR:
1. Patience. It’s not always easy to find what you’re looking for.
2. Versatility. We have to be able to write about food policy to a range of different audiences.
3. Positive Attitude. Working at an organization that attempts to protect our food and water, we are up against very strong corporate interests, which makes it difficult to win our campaigns. We have to remain positive and keep on keeping on.

CJ: You research genetically engineered foods and the impacts that the technology has on farmers, consumers, and the environment. For people who are starting to learn more about genetically engineered foods, what are the most important things to know and keep in mind?

GR: The first thing I always tell people that are just learning about genetically modified foods, or GMOs, is that the way that this technology is currently used is first and foremost a moneymaking scheme for biotech companies that own seeds as well as the herbicides that are used with them. Herbicides are poisons, and their use has increased since GMOs were introduced. There are still many unanswered questions regarding the safety of GMOs and the herbicides that are used with them, and we have been the guinea pigs for this experiment since these crops and associated chemicals have been used for the past 20 years and foods made from these crops have been sold without labels the entire time. We should all be outraged at the lack of accountability and transparency from our regulatory agencies that have been keeping us in the dark about what’s in our food for far too long.

CJ: Food & Water Watch is an advocacy group with food, water, and environmental policy campaigns. Why do these issues matter to you and what can young people who are interested in these causes do to make a difference?

GR: There is not a single person in the world that is not affected by food, water and environmental issues. I have always believed that we have to take responsibility for the way in which we’ve treated our natural resources as commodities since humans began colonizing this planet. It’s high time that we begin thinking about the environment as having its own intrinsic value. Interested young people should get involved at the local level in their communities by getting educated on issues and joining with other concerned individuals to demand change.

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CJ: Every day in your life must look different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

GR: Monday mornings are spent drinking earl grey tea and going through my emails from the weekend and my to-do list that I’ve written on Friday afternoon. I start the day off finishing quick research tasks and then move on to longer-term projects as the day wears on. I try to do my writing either first thing in the morning or right after lunch, when my mind is the clearest.

Throughout the day, I usually have a couple of calls with our organizers on the ground to discuss campaign details and how we can work together to advance our cause or with representatives from other organizations who work with us in coalitions in order to build power to affect change. Hopefully by the end of the day, I have checked more things off the list than I have added.

CJ: What should a young adult who wants to be a researcher do now to set him or herself up for success?

GR: Having an inquisitive mind is a great way to begin preparing to be a researcher. Research is really just the process of finding an answer to a question or a set of questions. Another good skill to start honing is the ability to distinguish between good sources and questionable sources. It is essential that good research be backed up by solid fact and discerning between what is credible and what is not is imperative in this line of work.

CJ: What are some books, resources, and websites that have influenced you – either personally or professionally (or both)?

GR: E.O Wilson’s Biophilia was incredibly important in shaping and affirming my own opinions about the importance of protecting the environment and the role of humans in preservation. Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac was also very influential for me.

CJ: When you’re having a bad day, what do you do to reset?

GR: I usually go for runs to clear my head. After that, I spend time cuddling with my two cats, Jack and Willow, for comfort (if they’re in the mood, of course).

CJ: What are you working to improve upon – either personally or professionally – and how are you doing so?

GR: As a researcher with a dual monitor computer set-up, sometimes I find myself overwhelmed with inputs. Growing up in the age of multi-tasking and short attention spans, I sometimes struggle with devoting my full attention to individual projects as I’m working on them. I’m attempting to be more mindful of this and to fully immerse myself in one task at a time rather than spreading myself thin on a bunch of tasks.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

GR: I probably would tell 20-year-old me to spend a little bit less time studying and more time exploring the state parks and natural beauty around Lehigh and farther out into Pennsylvania.

Genna Reed Qs

Images: Genna Reed

EducationLearnSkills

If there was one subject I struggled with, it was math. Just remembering the numbers, the graphs, the…well, numbers. It gives me shivers. Everyone has a topic that they aren’t good at. Some people aren’t very fond of writing papers. Other people would like to do nothing but write papers for classes. Every once and a while, we run into those subjects and we get discouraged.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

It happens to everyone.

Yes. Everyone. Try and think of one person who is great in calculus, history, biology, chemistry, soccer, art, psychology, philosophy, language, and Shakespearean literature. You couldn’t think of anyone, could you? That’s because nobody’s perfect! Everybody has something they’re not good at, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. School and life is all about the learning process, and everyone is going through it just like you.

It takes practice. You’ll get better at it.

Imagine jogging at the local park. The first time is really hard and you’re all sore the day after. But after a month, jogging around doesn’t seem all that hard. Now, think of the subject that you’re bad at as that first time jog. It’s a hard topic, and you’re trying your best. You feel frustrated and you want to give up. You feel sore about not getting a good grade on your midterm. That’s okay. Just keep going at it. You might not be able to run across the country, but getting a mile or two down feels pretty good. Getting a few more points on the next exam is going to feel good too!

“You have to find a lot of things you don’t like before you find the things you love.”

This is advice a professor told me once. Sometimes the future may feel overwhelming or scary. By accepting that you may not be good at something, you know where to focus your energy and attention. For example, my math grades were bad but my art grades were pretty good. I knew I should apply for a liberal arts or arts school. Now I know I’m in love with classical literature and conceptual photography (completely different!). Sometimes you have to love yourself and make choices that are mentally healthy for you. That doesn’t mean give up (you can’t just fail your class), but you know to steer away from it when you’re picking your college electives. And maybe you’ll find something better along the way!

For those of you who are suffering from “I don’t understand anything in this class” syndrome, don’t worry. It happens to everyone. Think of it as a way to get to know yourself better. Do your best and don’t give up!

Image: Iryna Yeroshko

SpotlightYouth Spotlight

It’s difficult to not think of Max Levine when we consider what it means to Seize Your Youth. Not too long ago we ran into Max at four in the afternoon on a Saturday, having just got off of his 24 hour shift as an EMT for the George Washington University Hospital. Despite his sleepless day, he was vibrant and excited to share what he had just spent the last 24 hours doing. It goes without saying that this is a person whose passion is contagious, and we are excited to share his experiences and advice with you. As a pre-med student at GWU, Max knows what it means to commit blood (literally), sweat, and tears into achieving his dreams.

Name: Max Levine
Age: 21
Education: B.S. in Biology and Spanish from the George Washington University
Discover: EMeRG

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?

Max Levine: I would define seizing your youth as recognizing the times when it’s okay to not care about the future or really anything in general and just do what you want to do.

CJ: What has been the most unexpected aspect of college?

ML: The most surprising part of college has been working as an EMT as a student. I never would have thought that this was even a possibility never mind something that I would take up as a hobby.

CJ: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

ML: Mostly class and an urgent need to urinate. That and morning breath that even offends me.

CJ: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

ML: Do what needs to be done, but do whatever makes you happy.

CJ: What has been your favorite college class so far? Why?

ML: My freshman University Writing course called “American Myth Through Western Film.” This class was awesome. All we did was watch sweet old western movies and then write papers about them. Our final project was to make up our own plot for a film and then write a brief summary of what the movie would be. It was fantastic.

CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

ML: It starts with four scrambled eggs and some cold water ( I can’t stand room temperature water.) Shower, dress myself with pretty little thought regarding color/pattern coordination. I’ll usually go to class and end up skipping lunch. Then I’ll either go to EMeRG shift, the parasite lab, or then go do homework and end up going to sleep around 12.

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CJ: How did you get involved in parasitology? What are the benefits and difficulties with that work?

ML: The parasitology class is offered to undergrads and I took it for my major. I ended up volunteering in the lab because I needed some lab experience for medical school and ended up loving the people I met there. The benefits are incredible. I have been given many projects to work on that are getting me invaluable experience in research methods and lab work in general. I am getting published by the end of this semester and will be looking to get a phenomenal recommendation from my professor as well. The difficulties of the lab include the time commitment and the general frustration of failing science experiments however I would hardly say that these are difficulties. The pros outweigh the cons by a long shot.

CJ: What advice would you give to incoming freshman who want to be pre-med in college?

I would say to not worry about the other pre-med kids because they’re usually pretty obnoxious and will do anything to let you know when they’ve succeeded and you’ve failed. Get out and do other things and learn how to be a social human being. Although grades are important, you won’t be a good doctor unless you genuinely know how to talk to and relate to people in a sincere manner. Also be open to other options, there are plenty of other things to do for jobs in the BIO field, not just medicine.

CJ: You spent a summer working at hospitals in Chile. Could you please tell us more about that experience and how it influenced you?

ML: I worked in both a public and private hospital in Santiago, Chile for 3 months. The private hospital was much like any modernized hospital you would find in the US, just in Spanish. Working here, I had the privilege of observing numerous operations that ranged from gastrointestinal procedures to vascular complications. These were the best surgeons and doctors in the country (possibly the continent) operating in this hospital.

The public hospital was in a rough neighborhood on the outskirts of Santiago that treated about 1.5 million patients a year and was named the busiest public hospital in Chile. The building itself was an old tuberculosis asylum that was converted into a hospital and the majority of people that come are pretty short on cash. I had met a younger doctor at the private hospital that was also doing rotations at the public hospital so I would go with him to and from shift. Here I was able to get my hands dirty, so to speak, and I learned how to give stitches and was fortunately able to participate/assist in a range of surgical procedures. This included appendectomies, cholecystectomies (gallbladder removal), one leg amputation, and a handful of other procedures. The leg amputation was the most memorable by far simply due to the gravity of what was going on. A woman with severe diabetes had neglected an infection in her leg, which had led to the necrosis of the majority of her lower limb. We amputated the leg from just above the knee in order to saver her life. It was a powerful and surreal experience that I will never forget. I won’t get too graphic with this but the most profound moment was the moment the leg was cut free. I had been holding the leg in a fixed position from the start of the operation and as it detached, I remember holding the leg and just looking at it and taking in what was in my hands and what this meant for the woman who had lost this limb. It’s hard to say how this has affected me, however I know for sure that this will be a lasting memory.

CJ: You are double majoring with Biology and Spanish. Can you explain why and if it’s been worth it?

ML: I have been taking Spanish since the 6th grade. I can’t imagine my life without the ability to use Spanish in some way shape or form. Additionally, Spanish is a really useful language to know in this country and has helped me in the medical setting, being able to communicate with Spanish speaking patients. On more than one occasion I have had to use Spanish on a call with EMeRG and even more so in Chile. Learning Spanish has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and the Spanish/ South American culture is definitely a prominent part of who I am today.

CJ: Between academics, working in the research lab, working as an EMT, and spending time on yourself, how do you juggle it all?

ML: There are three categories in college and everyone can only choose two. They are: Social life, Sleep, Good Grades. I have chosen to have a social life and “good grades” (in my case just study a lot and get okay grades) and I don’t really sleep a ton. I take medication for ADHD every day and it’s an amphetamine, which helps to keep me awake during the days (don’t worry it’s prescribed). I’m also just used to being tired all the time so little sleep isn’t a huge deal.

CJ: What is your favorite city?

ML: Boston. Hands down the best city on the planet. I grew up in the suburbs of Boston and it’s a city with a great personality and is more personal that New York.

CJ: What’s your favorite book?

ML: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

CJ: What advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?

ML: Don’t let high school get you down and don’t worry about your social status. The kids who peak in high school get what’s coming to them in college and don’t really amount to a whole lot. Don’t worry about what’s ahead; go run around without a wallet, cell phone or keys while you can because those days are long gone now.

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