By Holly Shanks
Photos provided by Kris Parsons
The Q & A below is a continued reading informational post from A Closer Look At Webster Students for Environmental Sustainability (WSES) article that can be found by clicking HERE.
Kris Parsons answered a few questions that provide further reflection and insight about WSES and the time she spent as a member.
Webster Project Manager Kris Parsons, graduated from Webster with her B.A. in International Human Rights and this year, completed an M.B.A., emphasis Finance. She started as project manager, which includes a wide range of responsibilities, in May 2014.
As a student, she became a member of WSES in 2010 shortly after it formed and has served as WSES vice president. She has also led WSES student groups to participate in Powershift events, which is an environmental justice movement organized by the Energy Action Coalition. She still acts as an alumni advisor to WSES.
Why do you think a student sustainability group is important to have at Webster?
Kris: Sustainability at Webster has always been championed by students. It was students who consistently brought sustainability issues to the attention of the administration, forcing them to prioritize it and include it in our strategic plan. In my opinion, it is the administration’s job to listen to student concerns and issues and balance student desires with University priorities and the reality of our capabilities. I believe it is the student’s job to make the hard ask for the University to go above and beyond. Students should push the administration beyond the limits of reality and administrators should aspire to those goals while balancing the University’s priorities. The two will meet somewhere in the middle and that’s how the University moves forward.
What did you take away from being a member of WSES or a memory that sticks out for you?
Kris: I learned a lot about leadership through my involvement in WSES, but the most valuable lesson I learned came from working with the CFO on various projects. He taught me that it’s great to care about sustainability and to protest and to ask powerful decision-makers to do things to advance the agenda, but the hardest and most valuable part of the process is actually doing the work. It’s not enough to protest or speak for sustainability – if you can actually manage and complete projects that deliver value, that’s where the real worth is. It’s easy to talk and strategize, it’s hard to implement.
How or when did you become interested in sustainability issues?
Kris: I became interested in sustainability issues during high school, around 2005. I was very involved in politics and became interested in sustainability through Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth.”
How do you support sustainability in your own life and lifestyle?
Kris: I still work as an advisor to the Missouri Coalition for Climate Justice (MCCJ) and as an alumni advisor to WSES. I also promote sustainability in my workplace. I work in the IT Project Management Office and I consistently work to promote sustainability in our initiatives. I also serve on the Webster University Sustainability Coalition and assist with the annual Sustainability Conference. I’m working with the Sustainability Coordinator – Lindsey LaFore (former president of WSES) on a green revolving loan fund and sustainability donor campaign.
In my personal life, I do small things like carpool, recycle, reuse items, etc. I also buy the majority of my groceries and other items local, which reduces the amount of carbon produced in transportation. I am also transitioning to a vegan diet for both health and environmental reasons. I also seek out sustainable products and regularly fund sustainable design products on Kickstarter and other sites.
What led you to make the decision to stay at Webster after graduating?
Kris: I’m the first person in my family to receive a Bachelor’s degree and the first to receive a Master’s as well. I am the first person to travel to another continent and learn another language. All of these opportunities, along with countless others, were offered to me through Webster University. I would not be where I am today if it hadn’t been for Webster and the opportunities that were offered to me by University leadership. A big part of why I like working here is because of the people I get to work with and work for. I read once that early in your career, you should never work at an organization where you’re the smartest person in the room or where you’re in charge because you won’t have anyone to learn from. I’ve been lucky to have some great mentors at Webster and I learn from them every single day, which will help me in the future as I advance in my career.
Also, my current role requires a lot of cross-departmental collaboration and knowledge of University operations and strategy. I have an advantage in those areas because I’ve done almost everything but teach here. I’ve been a prospective student, an undergraduate, a graduate student, an alumni, a resident, a commuter, a study abroad student, a member of student government, a student worker, a Graduate Assistant, and a staff member. I joke (but it’s true) that I’ve done everything from lay bricks in the patio behind Pearson House and pick up the recycling to completing projects for the CFO, the Administrative Council and the Board of Trustees. My exposure to the work of the University and my transition of roles has given me a great advantage in the work I’m doing today.
What do you feel is the most important sustainability issue that needs to be addressed on campus, student body and the community?
Kris: It’s difficult to answer this question because there’s a difference between what the biggest environmental impacts on campus are and the issues we can actually address. I think the biggest impacts are the amount of driving students, staff and faculty do, as well as energy use in our buildings and the food brought in for dining options.
I think the role of student activism has always been and will always be to educate their peers. There are certain projects that can be undertaken that would significantly reduce the environmental impact of the University, and they should be addressed. However, in my work with WSES, I know the biggest impact I made was on the 40-50 people that worked with us on sustainability issues and will never forget that. Educating your peers multiplies your power and ability to change the status quo.
What would you like to see WSES do in the future or their role to be in the future?
Kris: I would like to see WSES run campaigns again, as well as manage projects. I think the connotation of the word sustainability has changed. When I was a student and I talked to people about sustainability, the topics we discussed were how to stop the Keystone XL pipeline or how to divest from fossil fuels, etc. The topics we addressed were very political and tied into a national sustainability agenda and movement. We were very connected at both the state and national level. The excitement, ambition and optimism was palpable. To me, sustainability has never been about what to recycle and what kind of light bulb to buy, it’s always been about working with others to pressure decision-makers and change the world.
More information about WSES can be found by going to the WSES Facebook page or the WSES Webster webpage.