VIDEO: Randall Cass ’08 discusses his interest in sustainable agriculture and his activities at Willamette. (1:02)
After graduation, Cass joined AmeriCorps and worked for Oregon Tilth, a nonprofit that promotes organic certification.
Willamette alumnus to explore sustainable agriculture through Fulbright Grant
Agriculture was not something Randall Cass '08 expected to choose for his career. He grew up in a farming family — his father is an agronomist for an agriculture corporation — but his summers spent pulling weeds and managing fertilization in canola seed fields left him thinking the work was "dull, dirty and tiresome."
At Willamette University, Cass discovered a new way to combine his farming experience with his passions for civic engagement and the environment — through sustainable agriculture.
"As I participated in various research projects at Willamette, I realized how important food and agriculture are to communities around the world," Cass says. "I became interested in sustainable agriculture because of the positive way it can affect communities and the environment."
The Fulbright program enables recent graduates to take classes, pursue graduate degrees, teach English or undertake research or creative projects in more than 150 countries.
"The Chilean government has instituted some interesting agrarian policies that create incentives for rural farmers to use sustainable practices as a means of bio-remediation, conservation and economic development," Cass says. "I'll be taking classes at the Pontificia Universidad Católica while visiting farms to research how these policies have affected communities' farming production."
Cass first examined international agricultural development initiatives for his senior thesis, which focused on Africa. It was a topic he developed after spending a semester studying environmental theology and international relations at Yale Divinity School, an opportunity he found through Willamette's Lilly Project.
"My semester at Yale taught me about sustainable development theory and grassroots movements, especially relating to poverty and social equity," he says.
Serving through AmeriCorps
Cass's thesis advisor, environmental science professor Kimberlee Chambers, helped him discover his first post-graduation opportunity: an AmeriCorps position as an environmental educator at Oregon Tilth, a nonprofit that promotes organic certification, education, research and advocacy.
For two years, he led organic gardening classes and worked at Luscher Farm near Portland, where Oregon Tilth hosts a demonstration garden.
"The job allowed me to experience the full spectrum of nonprofit work, from meetings to volunteer coordination to public relations to fundraising," he says.
Cass applied simultaneously for the Fulbright and a master's program in international agricultural development at University of California, Davis. He got into both, and will head to UC Davis after his Fulbright ends.
"I hope to eventually work for a nonprofit or a government organization that assists developing communities in establishing food security in a sustainable way," he says.
Cass credits his Willamette experiences with helping him find his career path and supporting his interest in service.
"Willamette cultivates in its students the idea to engage civically," he says. "All my friends from Willamette are off doing amazing things. They're becoming nurse practitioners; serving in Teach for America, Peace Corps and AmeriCorps; or traveling the world through the Watson Fellowship. We all graduated with a sense of purpose.
"What I value most about Willamette is the fact that I got to do everything I wanted. I got to be an athlete, a tour guide and an RA. I got to act in plays, do the semester at divinity school and study abroad. Willamette gave me a bundle of experiences that have shaped who I am and where I want to go."