Abby Hart has a heart for the environment

Abby Hart by Bruce Stambaug

Abby Hart displayed some of her favorite mementos from Nicaragua.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Abby Hart, of Millersburg, loved science.

“But I didn’t want to be a doctor (like her father, Andy),” she said.

Instead, Hart put her scientific efforts into something she really cared about, the environment. She graduated from Wheaton College in 2009 with a degree in environmental studies.

After spending a year in Nicaragua through Mennonite Central Committee’s Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, Hart has just begun a new job at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She is a program assistant for the Eco-Agriculture Working Group under the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell.

She will be working to interconnect conservation and agricultural practices at Cornell. After her experience in Nicaragua, Hart said she considers this job an answer to prayer.

“I thought I would be preparing to go to grad school,” she said. “But now I’ll get to work and attend grad school as well.” Cornell has a graduate school program for employees, which Hart said she plans to take full advantage off.

A friend in California informed her about the job, knowing Hart’s dual interests in conservation and agriculture. Hart thinks her new position will be a good fit.

“They do research on agricultural procedures and conservation practices,” Hart said. “They focus on rural livelihood.”

After her SALT experiences in Nicaragua, Hart should be well suited for the job.

Hart lived for a year in a rural village in the central highlands of the Central American country. She had previously spent three months in neighboring Honduras, also through MCC, in an internship where Hart honed her Spanish skills.

In Nicaragua, Hart was involved in a food security project where she assisted locals in rearing small animals. She helped them learn how to raise rabbits and goats, two animals that Nicaraguans are normally not familiar with. She said they also raised chickens and sheep.

“We also worked in a water security program,” Hart said. “Ensuring clean drinking water there is crucial to prevent disease.”

Hart served as a liaison between department officials and the project beneficiaries, meaning the people who were involved in the programs. In fact, Hart lived with one of the beneficiaries in the small town of San Pablo.

“My host was one of the community leaders,” Hart said. “Thanks to cell phones, I’m still able to stay in touch with her.”

Hart, 23, returned from that assignment in July not knowing exactly what the future held for her. She was able to obtain a short-term job in agricultural research at the Ohio Agricultural and Research Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster. She had worked there previously in other summer jobs.

During those summer stints at the OARDC, Hart worked with a number of international students. It was then that she was able to improve on one of her hobbies, cooking. She also enjoys walking and biking.

“I still wanted to do agricultural and environmental related work or studies,” she said, citing the importance of conservation and agriculture working together.

Hart said she thinks her experiences at the OARC and in Nicaragua helped her in obtaining this new post.

“I am really excited to get this position,” she said. “It will involve working with both developing and underdeveloped countries. She said Cornell focuses its research on strategies in agriculture and the environment.

“They work in Central America and I will help in building social networks,” she said. “They apply the active learning approach to research and it is interdisciplinary.”

“It will be my job to obtain the most optimal solution for both agricultural and environmental processes,” Hart said.

Given her life experiences, her interests and her enthusiasm, the future looks bright for both Hart and those with whom she will be working.

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