Portland State University, like its home city, attracts an incredible variety of individuals. That’s because PSU is a unique institution nestled in a progressive city, filled with creative ideas and an active populace. Among the many programs that distinguish PSU, the Graduate School of Education’s Leadership in Sustainability Education offers a rare opportunity for students to develop valuable skills in this ecological field.
One of those students was Lacy Cagle, MS ‘10. Lacy was drawn to PSU because she saw in it an urban campus that seemed to break through the traditional university boundaries through its service in the local community. All of the logical reasons to come to PSU were augmented by a singularly emotional one for the Southern Illinois native. As she recalls, “I think I had been interested in Oregon ever since my days of pretending to be a pioneer on the Oregon Trail as a little kid!”
When she began the program, she was quickly amazed at the activism and leadership of her fellow students at PSU, both at the Sustainability Leadership Center and in the many student groups across the entire campus. “I met these 19-year-olds who were so empowered and inspiring — I wish I had that kind of vision and commitment when I was their age.” Lacy muses.
Lacy was able to attend PSU thanks to scholarships from her department, work-study with the Sustainability Leadership Center, and a graduate assistant position. Even with all of this activity, she still made community engagement a priority, inspired by staff such as Professor Heather Burns and Associate Vice Chancellor Leslie McBride.
“I enjoyed participating with fellow students in planning educational events and the Earth Day Festival, advocating for campaigns like Take Back the Tap, and giving input on campus development and the EcoDistrict plans.” Lacy states. “My program was focused on leadership, but I really learned to be a leader from my involvement with students on campus who believed that, together, they could change the system and acted on that belief.”
That leadership focus placed Lacy on the right path to follow her passion after graduation. She is now the Director of Curriculum and Community Engagement at the Northwest Earth Institute, a sustainability education nonprofit here in Portland that just celebrated its twentieth anniversary. Lacy leads a team of volunteers working to inspire people to take responsibility for the Earth, and develops discussion course books on sustainability topics for use in small groups. She can tackle these responsibilities, she says, because “While at PSU I got involved, didn’t stick to the sidelines, and was my own advocate.” Good advice for everyone, whether still in school or working in our illustrious city.