A World of Experience

Dana James has always been ambitious. In high school while peers were putting in a few local community service hours, she chose to volunteer in Guatemala. She approached her college education 
with the same above-and-beyond attitude.

Dana James

She returned from Guatemala in 2007 inspired. During the trip, James taught dental hygiene to people with little access to healthcare services, and spent time in rural, remote locations of the country where she witnessed chronic food insecurity for the first time.

“I came to appreciate food and nutrition a lot more after this trip,” she said. “There was no safety net for the poor and undernourished,” she explains. The trip sparked her interests in international development and global food security. “I believe that agriculture is one of the most important aspects of international development, and that its importance has often been overlooked.”

International experiences would become a cornerstone of her education and motivate her to enroll in both the international development option of the community, environment, and development major and the international agriculture minor. In the last four years James has studied in Australia and Spain, with plans to conduct research in Cambodia this summer on a federally funded grant before she begins graduate study in the fall.

James spent two months in Madrid last summer doing research for her honors thesis—work funded by the National Science Foundation. Her work involved field excursions into the Pyrenees Mountains where she collected Scots pine tree cores for later analysis in the United States. James was interested in the effects of climate and elevation on the trees’ growth. In her thesis report, James concluded that of five elevation sites, the second-lowest elevation level proved most favorable to tree growth.

She is inquisitive about both international environmental issues and those in her own backyard. She followed up the tree growth project with research on the reactions of Pennsylvanians to Marcellus shale drilling, indulging her interests from her other major, environmental resource management, and her second minor in watersheds and water resources. Her research found that Pennsylvanians experience anxiety about Marcellus shale drilling, particularly around environmental concerns.

In addition to her studies abroad and undergraduate research, James, a Schreyer Honors College scholar, usually had to take between 18 and 23 credits per semester in order to maintain the course load required for two majors and two minors in four years, while also serving as senior editor of the Community, Environment, and Development Undergraduate Research Journal, as a teaching assistant in environmental and resource economics, and as a team leader for Fresh Start Day of Service.

How does she do it all? “You just have to know you want to do it,” says James, “and be very strategic about it because it’s a big test in time management.” She also likes doing yoga in her free time. “I really enjoy the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of yoga,” she says. “It definitely helps me to focus and unwind.”

She credits her advisers for helping her stay on track to meet her academic goals.

Her adviser for environmental resource management, Dr. Rob Shannon, says James is a remarkable student because she truly cares about the world around her. “Her passion to understand the world and improve it through socially and environmentally sustainable action has helped Dana excel,” he says.

Her final semester brought rewards for hard work and dedication: James won the Schreyer Honors College’s Channa and Usharani Reddy Mission Award and was awarded a Fulbright grant to pursue a graduate degree at Newcastle University in England.

This fall, James begins graduate work studying food security and its impact on social and environmental justice and global security at Newcastle, bringing her experiences from the fateful trip to Guatemala full circle.

What countries interest her for future travel and research projects? “The better question might be which ones don’t,” she laughs.

by Whittney Trueax
Photo by Jessica Paholsky