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Environmental March Madness Tournament: Purdue Profile & Q&A

As part of our sponsorship of Enviance’s first-ever Environmental March Madness Tournament for environmental studies, Environmental Leader is publishing Enviance-penned profiles of the winning schools as well as Q&As with students from the individual programs. Congratulations to Rochester Institute of Technology, Colorado State University, Purdue and overall winner Colby College.

Name: Ashley Holmes
School: Purdue
Major: B.S. in Natural Resources & Environmental Science, B.S. in Environmental Plant Studies

Purdue University’s college of agriculture features a wide gamut of offerings for its students and helps produce graduates that will drive innovation in life sciences, the environment, agriculture and even the food system. With over 50 majors to choose from, students are given the freedom to select an environmental discipline they’re passionate about. And that passion has transferred into positive results for students post-graduation. Over the last two decades, more than 90 percent of college of agriculture graduates were employed or enrolled in a graduate school within three months of graduation.

Because of the school’s, and student’s, success, Purdue earned the honor of a Final Four finish in Enviance’s first-ever Environmental March Madness Tournament for environmental studies. The contest, designed to measure colleges and universities based on their academic and sustainability credentials, as it relates to the environment, was influenced by the student and faculty of the participating schools. With passionate students like Ashley Holmes in attendance, it’s not hard to see why Purdue was one of the last four schools standing.

Ashley grew up in a rural area outside of Greencastle, Indiana, about an hour south of Purdue, full of small farms and beautiful woods. Naturally, her love for nature was ingrained from a young age. Her interest in the environment took flight in junior high school, when she decided that she wanted to help stymie global climate change and its effect on the environment.

Since enrolling at Purdue, Ashley has jumped head first into the College of Agriculture. She initially began her college career determined to earn a B.S. in Natural Resources & Environmental Science but has since decided to expand and pursue a double major. After taking an introductory botany course her second semester on campus and developing an affinity for plants, she is now also working toward a B.S. in Environmental Plant Studies. And she doesn’t plan to stop there, Ashley is already thinking about graduate school, where she hopes to study the interaction between soil and plants.

Ashley took some time to share her thoughts on Purdue’s finish in the tournament, some of the more inspiring work she’s been a part of at Purdue, and what she feels are the most important environmental issues moving forward.

Q: What was the reaction from you and your peers after Purdue was named to the Final Four?

Ashley Holmes: Purdue was up against some tough and very worthy competition, so we were pleasantly surprised to have made it as far as the Final Four.

Q: Why do you think your school did so well?

AH: Because we have a diverse group of students in our environmental programs and our programs are extremely flexible, allowing students to explore environmental challenges that interest them while providing them with a strong and balanced science core. On top of that, our student body is involved in philanthropy and student organizations all across campus, demonstrating a commitment to everything from sustainable agriculture to zoology to environmental volunteerism.

Q: What projects have you been most passionate about working on while at Purdue? Do you think they will play a role in your future career?

AH: I’ve been most heavily involved in Full Circle Agriculture at Purdue (FCAP), which is the organization that runs Purdue’s new Student Farm. Last summer, I was a research intern and unofficial photographer on the farm, and I learned volumes on how to grow my own food, sell my own food, and enjoy my own food from seed to fork. On top of that, I learned a lot about poultry care and made best friends with the farm’s lovely duck, Belle. The farm will play a huge role in my future, whether it is simply for the sake of keeping a large hobby garden or for creating a focus for potential graduate research. I’ve learned life skills on the Student Farm that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Q: What do you feel are the biggest environmental issues facing the world?

AH: The biggest environmental issue facing the world, in my eyes, is the issue of soil health. No one can live without food, so growing crops and raising animals for food is one of the most important pursuits known to man. Sadly, this need for food seems to have come at the expense of the health of soils. Planting monocultures, spraying pesticides, exhausting nutrients with exhaustive plantings, stripping the land of its native rainforest to plant crops and ranch— activities that these soils aren’t meant to do—and extensive soil erosion are all jeopardizing our ability to keep soil healthy and productive for generations to come.

Q: What solutions do you think are required to address these issues?

AH: A solution to soil health decline can be achieved through a fundamental change in the way we grow our food. We need to shift away from practices that reduce our soil health, which may mean restructuring large, mechanized, industrial farms into something smaller and more resilient.

Q: What would be an ideal job for you after you graduate?

AH: My ideal post-graduation job would be something that combines my love of botany, soils, and photography into one. I would love to have the opportunity to travel the world doing soil surveys, consulting with farmers on soil health and their crops, and photographing my experiences.

Q: If you had to pick one positive impact you could make on the environment, what would it be?

AH: A positive impact that I would like to make on the environment would be to improve the general public’s knowledge level of farming and gardening. I would love to make it possible for people, no matter where they live, to be able to grow some of their own food and take small steps to becoming more self-sufficient.

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