By. Drew Story
The California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) has had immense impact in developing California students into leaders. Comprising a diverse team of individuals, each with a different story to tell, unified by common goals and passions, CSSC paves the way for students to achieve measurable results for the cause of holistic sustainability. Kristyn Payne, Program Manager of the CSSC Writing Program, is one of those individuals for whom CSSC has helped grow into a sustainability leader.
I sat down with Kristyn to try and uncover why she was drawn to CSSC, how she has been involved since that time, how CSSC has impacted her life and her professional career, and why she thinks the mission of CSSC is central to California’s political and educational climate.
Beginning her undergraduate degree at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 2012, Kristyn was a political science major who, midstream, found herself drawn to environmental studies. As she transitioned into her new college major, she began taking more interest in plugging into various environmental clubs on campus. Not looking for a leadership role, Kristyn was satisfied to merely participate and learn about this new interest of hers.
Kristyn recalls reading an announcement for a CSSC Student Convergence happening in Humboldt, CA in the fall of 2013. A Humboldt hometownee herself, that trip seemed like a two birds – one stone scenario; attend an interesting event, and visit friends and family back home. In the carpool on the way to Humboldt from Santa Barbara, Kristyn realized just how diverse the occupants of the carpool were, differing from her in terms of cultural background, geographic roots, and their respective interests. Yet, this diversity was magnified even more so at the convergence, wherein Kristyn realized she had never before felt so inspired and challenged. She never before attended an event so inclusive and able to unify so many different people under a common interest.
The CSSC Convergence was so focused on the student voice, and the power that students wield, often unwittingly, that Kristyn was eternally changed by it. She says this was her first true exposure to the intricacies and interdependencies of sustainability and social justice. This pushed her to think beyond the environmental movement she had been increasingly taking part in.
From this point on, she was hooked. She pursued the opportunity to help plan the next convergence, conveniently slated to happen at UCSB. Shortly thereafter, she began to volunteer as the CSSC Newsletter Coordinator and stayed in that position for a year and a half.
She continually developed her skills and leadership capabilities, but when an opening was announced for the Online Communications Coordinator position, Kristyn was not sure she was fit for the job. But the CSSC Leadership had identified the potential in Kristyn, and with their encouragement and support, she ultimately applied for and accepted the position. This new vantage point gave Kristyn the ability to identify places where CSSC could continue grow as an organization. The semi-annual convergences provided the chance for Kristyn to lend her talents to the team as a facilitator of the event planning process. But in turn, she was able to pass her knowledge and experience to other students and has increased CSSC’s capacity for hosting the engaging and empowering events that were the cause of her initial experience with CSSC. She also felt that CSSC had the capacity to organically foster the development of student leaders across California, and wanted to see more opportunities for students to be involved. She floated the idea of a volunteer writing program, in which students from across the state could write about salient sustainability issues on their individual campuses and amplify the student voice from across California. She presented the idea at the 2016 CSSC Summer Leadership Retreat and the idea was approved as pilot project. You are only reading this now because the program has taken off and begun to take form as that vehicle for student development.
Beyond this measurable increase in CSSC’s coverage of student perspectives, Kristyn is perhaps most appreciative for how the organization has pushed her out of her comfort zone and helped her see the value that interdisciplinarity can have when uniting students towards common goals. She has consistently focused on the institutional aspect of sustainability; the program management on campuses, helping students and groups write grant proposals for sustainability projects, and helping students take ideas off of paper and put them into practice.
As is true for most people who engage in sustainability long enough, Kristyn is familiar with the feeling of the dire nature of sustainability, for our world, and for humanity. But this daunting feeling reinforced her value that a coalition of diverse people with a common passion and a willingness to work together for common goals is paramount to the success of any sustainability movement. Framing her involvement in the movement as a whole, which Kristyn admits feels small at times, in this context helps her stay motivated to continue fighting for the continued impact CSSC can have in California, now and into the future. The network of individuals Kristyn has come to know all share her passion and have proven to be a dependable source of inspiration and resourcefulness, and she knows that this bond will remain intact as students leave their California campuses and go on to different places, doing different things for sustainability.
Kristyn wholeheartedly believes that CSSC has a large role to play in the continued improvement of the educational and political climate in California. While students on California campuses are being stretched and challenged, CSSC provides the space and resources for students to engage with and propel from each other. What is born at a CA Community College can find traction at a UC, and what works as a “best practice” at a UC may save a student group at a California State University a lot of time and energy as they work towards a similar goal. CSSC is the uniting force behind cohesive and sustained progress across the state, and it is this community, this genuine connection to each other and to the shared goal of improving sustainability that has kept Kristyn involved with CSSC for so long, and why she feels she is better leader and a better person having been part of it.