Alumni Spotlight: Maggie Ferrato
COL ’14 JUPS and Environmental Studies minor and History major
As a JUPS Student, what was your concentration and what was your thesis about?
As a JUPS minor, since I went through the program before we had the option to major in Justice and Peace Studies, I didn’t have to have an official concentration. Most of my classes ended up being around environmental and human rights themes.
Since I was a history major, JUPS minor and Environmental Studies minor, I wanted to find a thesis topic that would bring together all of those interests; and most of my History classes were environmental and they focused on African history. So, my thesis was about the possibilities of environmental peacebuilding in the Niger Delta. I first wrote a whole section on the history of it, then I looked at the environmental impacts and then [wrote] from a Justice and Peace Studies perspective at the power dynamics of the Niger Delta. [I focused on] multinational oil corporations coming in and drilling, where the wealth goes, what the living conditions there are, and what some of the constructive ways that they can move forward are. It’s also devolved in recent years into violence because of the environmental degradation there, so I tried to figure out what incentives a corporation would have to work with the local people and how you can start dialogues around that…It was great in the sense that I was able to bring everything together, and it was a good culmination of all of the courses that I had taken in college and my three major interests.
I presented [my thesis] at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. That was great because they sort of lumped environmental topics together, so I was with a STIA major who studied natural gas resources in Russia, looking at the economics of how it relates to environmental degradation. I forget what the other [presentation] was, but I was the most justice-and-peace-y topic. It was pretty cool to hear all of them together and the different approaches we all took to it, but we were all interested in each other’s [research] because there were things that I didn’t consider that the economist had more of a background in.
What are you doing now?
My job for the year has been to be the Maryland-DC Campus Contact (MDCCC) Americorps VISTA member at Georgetown. This is the first Americorps position that’s been at the university. It was a really exciting position to come into because the major project was to explore the Center for Social Justice (CSJ)’s options for engaging in STEM education work more formally. What that has evolved into is two tutoring programs at Knoll Elementary School. One of them is mostly science education on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the other one is in partnership with DC First and Lego League, so the kids are designing and building models and working on real world problems and how to solve them. That’s been a lot of fun. I also support anything that overlaps both CSJ and science, so I advise GUMSHOE (Georgetown University Math and Science Hands On Enrichment) and I run the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium which brings high school students to campus; it’s basically a science conference for high school students, and then some of them have the opportunity to present their work as well.
It’s not what I thought I would be doing, but it’s amazing because Americorps gives you a lot of responsibility in the positions you go into. In this first year of a pilot program, I had a lot of leeway to decide what I wanted it to look like. I spent the whole first couple of months researching and I got to use a wide range of skills that I developed at Georgetown; I think for a lot of [other] entry-level positions that’s not necessarily the case.
How do you think the “justice and peace lens” has affected your work, or will affect your work in the future?
It has definitely affected my work at the CSJ because it’s very much the same mindset of looking at systems and people and talking to different stakeholders, not just direct service. All of that has shaped the way that the program started.
Until entering the work role, I never fully appreciated the importance of, not even what work you do from day to day, but what perspective or lens you view that work through. You could be anyone, you could be an economist or a farmer, but it’s the Justice and Peace Studies lens that really makes that work meaningful and ultimately enables you to do it well. [You consider] the human dignity of everyone that you are working with and how systems work together instead of just going to work and doing X, Y and Z and going home at the end of the day.
What do you miss most about being a Georgetown student? And what is your favorite thing about not being a student anymore?
I kind of cheated, because what I miss most is something I can still do now, just in a different capacity: I miss always thinking, always being challenged to think in a different way and having access to speakers, classes and readings. On my own, I don’t make time for that learning; when you’re tired at the end of the day you don’t seek out some philosopher to read in your spare time. Just always being stretched mentally. That’s what I’ve appreciated most about staying here; I’ve been trying to fit that in where I can, going to conferences, sitting in on classes, and going to events. [For example,] the Lannan Symposium just hosted Bill McKibbon for a talk. I can’t imagine not having access to [that].
Even though my job isn’t really nine to five compared to other jobs, we work strange hours, or on the weekends; but we can leave work and have a mental break. With school, there was always homework to do, there was always a reading to do; nothing ended at five o’clock. It’s nice because once things end at five, you can do something totally different and don’t have to have that paper that’s weighing on the back of your mind. I like school, and I never thought that would be something that I appreciated most being out of school.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you about that you want to talk about?
Something that people have told me—and I’m hoping that I can hold on to this as I try to figure out what I’m doing next—this sounds so cliché, but, “you’re only young once.” I think some of my family members were saying, “Why are you taking a job that doesn’t have a salary? It only has a stipend. You’re going to work a lot. You’re not leaving Georgetown.” Nobody understood my choice, I think. Right now, you have the freedom to stick to your guns, go for the job you want and find what makes you excited. Even if [you say,] “I’m going to teach English in Thailand for a year,” you can go do that now, as opposed to ten years down the line, when everyone tells me you get stuck. I hope that doesn’t happen.
It’s been interesting talking to friends. You know, everyone graduates at once and you talk to all your friends. A lot of people that I know ended up doing something conventional, and not all of them are happy. Not that that’s a bad route, but know yourself, your interests and your strengths and use that as a starting point. I have to keep reminding myself, looking at what comes next. It’s so easy when the conventional things look impressive: they have the salary and stuff like that, but this job really is more interesting. I could have ended up making photocopies for a large environmental organization technically working for someone cool, but I wouldn’t have learned as much from the day to day work.