Our Stories

From Tractor to Trustee Meeting

"My dad likes to say that farmers were the first environmentalists," says politics student Janelle Duyck '08, who grew up on a farm in Hillsboro, Ore., patched jobs together to get through school, and graduates in December.

She still helps out on the farm for a month every summer, driving tractor 16 hours a day to get through the rows -- berries, wheat, corn and grasses spread across hillsides and flatlands. "My dad has memorized the phone number for the weather," says Duyck, who's inherited his work ethic.

Her first summer after college, she canvassed door to door for OSPRIG, a public interest advocacy group, creating awareness about global warming -- in temperatures that sometimes topped 100 degrees. "We talked about renewable energy legislation -- from 10 in the morning until 10 at night," says Duyck, who carried a backpack of literature for miles. "You learn a lot about people when you go door to door."

She also advocated for a more sustainable lifestyle at Willamette, where she and Maya Karp '07 created a sustainable floor in Matthews Hall. Her roommates used low-flow showerheads and cloth towels instead of paper. They turned out lights, composted kitchen scraps in outside flowerbeds, and turned over old event flyers to print new events on the back. They carried reusable mugs with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, "Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until you put them in hot water."

"Our goal was to make our little community more environmentally friendly and to lower our carbon footprint," Duyck says. "The uncertainty about our environmental future scares me, but I'm optimistic. I think people are good, and we're trying to do the right thing. You can be a realist and an optimist at the same time.

"I used to look at things as black and white, but since coming to Willamette I've spent more time trying to understand the gray areas. A true democracy rests on people being educated enough to understand issues, and Willamette teaches you to think critically and keep an open mind. I've learned that two very intelligent people can arrive at very different conclusions."

Willamette has been a great fit for Duyck in other ways as well. "It's small enough that you can really make a difference," she says. She chaired the Sustainability Committee in Kaneko Commons, chaired the student judicial board, organized the "I'm Dreaming of a Green Holiday" alternative gift market, and coordinated a vegetarian barbeque, where she created awareness of the environmental and health benefits of vegetarianism. She even advocated for a sustainable campus in a presentation to University trustees.

"I tried to focus on small things people can do, things that wouldn't really have that much impact on individual lives, but would make a difference collectively.

In a motivational speech she gave to incoming students, she said, "You chose Willamette because it's a great school, so it may seem perfect. But it's not -- and that's good. Everything can be improved, including this community, and the school is small enough that you can really make a difference and inspire others if you capitalize on the opportunities."

Duyck will graduate in December, and her goals then? "I want to do something with my life that has impact," she says, "but even seemingly insignificant jobs can help people. With my education and job experience, I feel that my options are endless, whether it's going to grad school in politics or law, working at the state capitol, or working with a nonprofit group, especially one focused on sustainability."

And when she needs a breather from good works, she can always fall back on the affinity for nature she inherited from her farmer dad. "Some of my friends laugh at me," Duyck says, "but I really do like to stop and smell the roses."