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Community spotlight: Q&A with Renée Bogin Curtis

Who are you? 

I am Renée Bogin Curtis, MUS, the sustainable systems project manager at PSU’s Community Environmental Services (CES), and a Ph.D. candidate in urban studies. I have always wanted to be a researcher—to pursue, unpack, and apply knowledge toward positive goals. I also value how personal experiences of parenthood, travel, culture, and struggle motivate my interests. If I could add to my current work, I would participate in a think tank that tries to operationalize practices of global citizenship. 

What are you working on right now?

Recently, I took over the Fork it Over program, a Web-based program for businesses and food rescue agencies that diverts food waste through a donation matching program. Currently, I’m finishing a five-year evaluation of OMSI's Sustainability: Promoting Decision Making in Informal Education, an outreach project for museum industry professionals and public patrons at OMSI. The project focused on gathering the experiences of Spanish-speaking patrons in museum environments. For my Ph.D. program, I’ll soon start research on the processes and impacts of social benefit companies. 

What’s the one thing you want the sustainability community to know about what you’re doing?

Academics and activists sometimes engage in heated debate about the benefits and/or obstacles of market-based actions. There’s also a pattern of competition between social justice and the environmental (or food) movement. I’m part of an effort to surmount these tensions and investigate potential overlaps in goals. For example, I loved the opportunity to expand Fork it Over for Metro, because the program helps divert food waste, reduce hunger, and support local businesses.

If you could have lunch with one famous person—alive or dead—who would that be and why?

There's not one person that inspires me. I’m more inspired by being part of a movement—by my students, peers, cohort, colleagues, and all the scholars whose ideas have mixed with mine. Yet if I could have lunch with a famous person, I’d pick a writer—Murakami, Dostoevsky, Arundhati Roy. Socrates supposedly said the unexamined life is not worth living. That’s a bit harsh, but to paraphrase it, an examined life and examined world is worth saving. Novelists can tap into that inner reflective world that drives us to care.

What do you think the world will be like in fifty years?

As our global connections continuously grow, I hope we’ll value diversity in all realms of knowledge: across ethnicity, economic status, geography, species, our human and natural systems, and certainly academic disciplines. If we can routinely imagine what life is like for others nearby and around the world, empathy could be one of our best tools. Empathy for ourselves is essential, too. Our own defenses often form the biases that obstruct communication and productivity. I fear the impacts of threatened biodiversity on our ability to meet basic needs (food and water). I imagine that despite a growing recognition of our interconnections within global systems, control over scarce resources will perpetuate inequitable distribution and strengthen some of the most powerful market and political forces. Yet, we may also adapt and become more sustained at local levels. Almost nowhere is our world exclusively local or global, and I expect it to become more of both. I also think if we sufficiently endure environmental struggles, we’ll witness spectacular urban visions of science fiction—with vast physical and virtual networks. But probably without the flying highways.