Meet the new Student Sustainability Center Interim Coordinator
Author: Emily Quinton, Campus Sustainability Office
Posted: April 3, 2020

At the close of her final term at Portland State, Serena Dressel was awarded the Inspiring Student Award at the annual PSU Sustainability Celebration. This award reflected Serena’s deep involvement and contributions to several sustainability volunteer, education, and leadership programs at the University. PSU is fortunate to have Serena back on campus this spring, as the new Interim Coordinator for the Student Sustainability Center (SSC). 

 Serena got her bachelors in Environmental Studies and a minor in Indigenous Studies from PSU and was a Sustainability Scholar through the Honors College. As a student, Serena participated in many SSC programs, working up to leadership roles including the Volunteer Coordinator and then Leadership Programs Coordinator. Serena also participated in the Student Fellows and Sustainability Mentorship Programs, and served on various advisory councils and boards such as for the Institute for Sustainable Solutions and Student Activities & Leadership Programs (SALP). At the same time, Serena also supported other departments in their efforts to infuse sustainability into programming and began engaging with the Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network (GPSEN), where she is now the Board President.

Serena will support SSC student volunteers, staff, and Leadership Fellows, as they grow professional development skills, reflect on their experiences, and advance sustainability on campus. We asked Serena to tell us more about herself, so that the campus can get to know Serena!

Q: Tell us what you’ve been up to since graduating from PSU!

I have continued my passion for community engagement by supporting programs on and off campus. One way I stayed connected to PSU was through leading GPSEN’s College Network. We hosted a regional student summit and connected to international initiatives through a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Global Challenge. In this work, I also facilitated relationship building between PSU students and students from PCC and Reed College. Another project connected to campus involved supporting the Intensive English Language Program’s Communication and Culture program as they developed sustainability curriculum and service learning projects focused on the SDGs.

Outside of PSU, I managed Axiom Event Production’s volunteer programs for the Sunday Parkways event series, CAReFREE Sunday, the Cinco de Mayo Fiesta, Mississippi Street Fair, and a number of distance cycling events. In this role, I worked with government and nonprofit clients to ensure their event production needs and community engagement goals were met through volunteer participation - from a few dozen to a few hundred volunteers at each event. Though the scale and format of this work differed from my time in SSC’s Sustainability Volunteer Program, I was able apply some of the lessons I had learned in authentic relationship building and community engagement to help grow the volunteer programs of large scale events. 

Q: You were involved in a lot of programs while you were a student at PSU and you also wrote a thesis. What was your thesis about?

As an undergraduate student of the Honors College, I completed a thesis in partnership with the Geography Department and my advisor, Dr. Hunter Shobe. The focus of my thesis was on cultural geography and the concept of a “sense of place”. My thesis, titled “Living Day by Day” Refugees of Color Navigate Gentrification and Racism in Portland, Oregon: a Sense of Place, examined the factors that shape Refugees of Color's sense of place in Portland, focusing on how gentrification and racism negatively affect their perception of Portland, comfortability, and safety living in the region. To conduct my research, I interviewed staff from the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), including those who were refugees and asylees, and staff who worked with refugees. In addition, I interviewed a staff member with Catholic Charities. 

As someone passionate about the importance of environmental justice and cultural and social sustainability, I see my thesis connecting to strategies for Portland to work towards being a more socially sustainable city. As a granddaughter of an immigrant who is a Person of Color, I also felt interested in the topic through my personal identity.

 Q: When you were involved in SSC programs, what is something you experienced that you hope to foster for students currently involved?

I think that the most valuable experience was the culture of community created year after year. I began my involvement with the SSC as a volunteer during my first term at PSU and continued my involvement every term for four years. Participating as a freshman was grounding and it helped shape my experience at PSU. As Interim Coordinator, I hope to continue to support this environment of support and care. Creating and sustaining spaces of community and engagement in co-curricular contexts can greatly contribute to students success and retention.

Q: What is something you are excited for and what is one challenge you anticipate in your new role as SSC Coordinator?

I am excited to be re-immersed in a community that is so passionate and excited about sustainability initiatives on campus and about the systems and values they want to support in their lives beyond their roles at SSC. Like many others, I was excited to be engage in the events planned for Earth Week and Social Sustainability Month, and I am continually impressed by how adaptive, resilient and flexible SSC students have been in changing their spring term programming.

I have already found that the students I am meeting show that any challenges I anticipated can be overcome. Students have been very welcoming and open to seeing how my perspective can contribute to the programming at SSC.

Q: How are you managing remote working so soon after starting a new position that would usually entail a lot of in-person interaction? Do you have any tips for others who may be starting a new job soon in a remote environment? 

It is an odd time to be beginning a new position. I would say that communication is more critical than ever - creating clear systems and expectations for communication, and ensuring that those you need to communicate with know how to use the tools that you use to meet. I encourage video over phone meetings, as I find that I feel less socially isolated when I get to see people’s faces, homes, and pets! My advice for others is to participate in any kinds of fun connection-based platforms that your employer might be offering: for example in SALP, we have a Slack channel where we share resources and funny moments from our day. Part of the key to adapting to these times is recognizing that taking the extra time in your day to share a playlist, a meme, or a picture can really help you and your coworkers to feel more connected, and is worth the effort.

Q: Do you have a favorite cuisine or restaurant in Portland? How about a recipe you’re trying at home during the #StayHomeSaveLives time?

Food is a huge part of my life as my parents owned a restaurant until I was ten years old. My favorite cuisine is either vietnamese food or peruvian food. I find that asian food is my comfort food, most likely because my dad is Filipino and managed Japanese and southeast Asian restaurants when I was growing up, which meant a lot of delicious leftovers. I’ve been experimenting with my instapot, trying variations of chicken adobo and tofu adobo. I will try making another Filipino dish, pancit, after my next trip to the grocery store, when I am able to stock up on noodles.