Grad School Q & A: James Souder ’13, studying at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

James Souder graduated from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in 2013. He majored in environmental and social sustainability, with minors in photography, biology, economics and international development. He is now pursuing a Master of Environmental Management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Describe your field of study and research at Yale.

My concentration is in “Industrial Ecology and Green Design.” Industrial ecology is an environmental field which examines material use and production systems. I am particularly interested in waste-to-resource initiatives that capture unused materials and reduce the amount of waste entering landfills. By cycling these resources back into production, we can also reduce the amount of new material inputs coming from nature. I am also studying carbon footprints and life cycle assessment, which are methods of calculating the environmental impact of materials and systems.

How did your academic studies and professors at EMU prepare you for your graduate studies?

I received a holistic framework of sustainability that incorporated society and economics into environmental topics. EMU’s structure allowed me to explore environmental issues from a variety of academic disciplines, ranging from economics to ecology and photography. I was encouraged to invest time in social causes and local environmental efforts, which led me to start a food recovery program on campus with several friends. This passion for surplus food redistribution made me think about material use more broadly, which is what brought me to graduate school at Yale. The variety of courses I was able to take, along with EMU’s global focus, provided a strong framework which I’m able to build on for further study.

What do you think made your application to graduate school stand out among others?

I think my graduate school application was strengthened by a combination of strong undergraduate courses and sincere letters of recommendation from EMU professors. I feel grateful for the opportunity to study closely with professors I connected with on a personal level, which may not have been possible at a larger school. In addition, one of the Yale graduate school essays asked about my “contribution to community” which I was very prepared to answer after spending four years at EMU. I also worked for a few years after EMU, including a year with PULSE in Pittsburgh and in Burkina Faso with Mennonite Central Committee’s SALT program, which gave me professional experiences outside the academic context.

What attracted you to attend EMU as an undergraduate?

I was looking for a school with a strong sense of community and a global focus. Having grown up in Harrisonburg, EMU was always on my radar. When I visited campus, I no longer felt like I was in my hometown, because the people are really what make a place. I was attracted to the photography department, honors program, cross-cultural opportunities, and the newly created environmental and social sustainability major.

What are some favorite memories of your time at EMU?

My cross-cultural semester in the Middle East was certainly a highlight during my years at EMU. Through this experience, I had the opportunity to visit Syria in 2011 before the conflict began, which has continued to shape my global perspective as the regional complexity continues to unfold. I am grateful for my experience working at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute, where I was able to extend hospitality to visiting scholars and practitioners from around the world. I also have many fond memories from singing with EMU Chamber Singers and late-night conversations with friends.

What do you think makes EMU graduates distinctive?

I think EMU graduates have a strong globally-focused worldview and an ability to think critically about complex systems from interdisciplinary perspectives.