First undergraduate degree in sustainable agriculture awarded
July 27, 2012
Armed with a Bachelor of Science degree from UC Davis and a one-way ticket to Washington D.C., Genevieve “Genna” Lipari has set course to change the world.
Although she hasn’t lined up a position yet, she’s a proven trail blazer. In June, Lipari became the first UC Davis graduate to walk across the commencement stage to receive an undergraduate degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SA&FS).
“The classes, field work, and instructors really helped me understand the big picture about agriculture and our food system,” she said. “It’s a valuable perspective to have as I enter the workforce. In an era of greater food demand and challenging stewardship of natural resources, the SA&FS degree was created to help students gain a broad perspective of what it takes to put dinner on the table.”
Lipari’s commitment to sustainable food systems and agriculture began as a freshman at Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, when another student handed her a flyer encouraging involvement in the organic garden club. Lipari immersed herself in gardening, and created an independent study class in high school to satiate her appetite for garden and food knowledge.
“Reading ‘The Omnivore's Dilemma’ by Michael Pollan and ‘Harvest for Hope’ by Jane Goodall took me from being an interested gardener to becoming a passionate food activist,” Lipari said. “But, it wasn't until I took Ryan Galt's food systems course at UC Davis that the whole picture really came together for me and I decided this was the field I had to go into.”
In Professor Galt’s course she was introduced to the social issues within the food system. The SA&FS major enabled Lipari to combine her passion for food and growing vegetables with a growing interest in working to solve greater societal issues from a systems perspective.
“SA&FS graduates have a good understanding of society, the environment, and farming,” said professor and SA&FS master adviser Tom Tomich. “The program integrates several subjects to ensure students gain a diversity of knowledge and skills—particularly the ability to step back and take in the whole picture. It means they should be able to plug into jobs that require people to see the bigger issues and how things are connected.”
Lipari hopes to land a job at an urban nonprofit organization that would allow her to focus on food policy, justice, education, and outreach. “I want to try a lot of things,” she said. “That’s why I love this major. It prepared me for all of these options.”
Lipari’s approach to the postgraduate job hunt doesn’t surprise her professors.
“Genna takes on challenges and emerges as a natural leader,” said Mark Van Horn, director of the Student Farm and instructor for one of the core courses in the major. “She is daring, very thoughtful, and purposeful. The fact that Genna was able to earn this degree within a year of it becoming available is proof of her drive and ambition.”
Lipari learned as a freshman that the major was in development and would soon be offered to undergraduate students. “I was so attached to the major,” she said. “I didn’t really have a plan B.”
UC Davis students aren’t allowed to accumulate more than 225 credits by their second-to-last quarter as undergraduates, a limit established to encourage students to remain focused on achieving a degree. But, without knowing whether the SA&FS degree would be available in time for her graduation, Lipari skated the line between two possible majors, finally opting for a different degree her third year as it seemed the SA&FS degree would not become available. A few months later, after undergoing a long process of academic scrutiny, the SA&FS degree program was approved and made available to students. She didn’t hesitate and switched to the SA&FS major.
Earning the new major after it was established meant Lipari had to quickly reorganize and endure an intense schedule of classes her senior year.
“The reason I’m so happy is that it was such a hurdle,” Lipari said. “But the faculty were so supportive. I got a red carpet education from UC Davis and feel confident about my future.”
(Written by Eve Hightower, communications coordinator for the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis)
Eve Hightower, UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, (530) 752-2742, email@example.com.
John Stumbos, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, (530) 754-4979, firstname.lastname@example.org.