Jessye is an environmental activist with a proven track record. Before arriving at Duke, Jessye earned EPA’s highest honor, the Environmental Quality Award, for secondary school recycling initiatives.
At Duke she has held leadership roles within the Environmental Alliance for all four years: EcoOlympics campaign coordinator for two years and co-President for two years. In these roles, she redesigned the annual competition to increase participation and implemented a mentoring structure to improve new student retention. She also represented the group on the University President’s Campus Sustainability Committee.
Jessye represented Duke at the ACC Student Leadership Conference on the ethics of water resource management. She has also been an invited consultant on a Yale University report on environmental security, related to water. She was selected to be one of two undergraduate bloggers for the Nicholas School of the Environment, writing about the connection between access to energy resources and conflict and social movements.
Her capstone leadership initiative has been the coordination of an 8-person team to produce the recent Expert Environmentalist Colloquium. This day-long conference featured 18 experts from the Research Triangle discussing the most pressing modern environmental challenges.
Many students have to learn that you need to focus on what you are passionate about and leave the other potential resume-building fluff aside. She learned that before setting one foot on Duke’s campus. Every activity, course, and research project has been intentionally preparing her for a professional life as an environmental activist. She has been an excellent role model for her peers in terms of setting her focus and priorities in line with her values.
Jessye is one of those few college students who has a vision for change and the ability to break the vision into manageable pieces. She does exactly what she sets out to do. The only difference between the original idea and the end result is the number of people she has recruited along the way: both students and faculty who believe that they can and will make a difference.
When asked about her role models, she responded that it has been difficult to pinpoint one. I think it's difficult to pinpoint one person. “There have been many people who have inspired me: Queen Elizabeth I - a total kickass feminist who showed that women could do a man's work, even better than a man; Jane Goodall - when I was young, I was first inspired by her work with chimpanzees, but now her work with children to raise awareness about environmental and animal rights issues (what arguably could be dubbed as environmental peacebuilding) has been an inspiration for my professional interests, demonstrating what can be accomplished at the grassroots level; Stargirl - the main character in the novel by Jerry Spinelli by the same name, who is perfectly content to be herself, regardless what everyone else things.
But these are all people who have inspired me as role models from afar. I have my parents and my childhood friends to thank in large part for the person I am today. They have encouraged and supported my passions, no matter how whimsical: organizing a park clean-up for my birthday party, baking dozens of cupcakes at 2am on a school night to give out for Earth Day, going to school dressed as a ship--with a 3-foot sail towering over my head, I might add--because I had a history exam that day. At an age when my friend's parents were dictating their choices—‘Oh no! You cannot go to school in that!’ or ‘You can't do that! You need to study for your test tomorrow!’--my parents supported my whimsical choices. They let me be me. I can't thank them enough for that.”
She reflects on her decision to costume during high school. “For every history exam from 7th grade until the end of high school, I made and wore a relevant costume to what we were studying: a ship from the Spanish Armada, General Burnside from the American Civil War, a wildcat bank, a pilgrim. Retrospectively, I think it was a great exercise in confidence building and in becoming grounded as a person. When you walk into high school for the first time on a normal Tuesday wearing a southern-belle style hoop skirt, you're going to have people poke fun at you. But, because you know you're doing something absurd, it's easy to laugh along, laugh at yourself, and brush off those who were less than supportive and disregard the opinions of those who were being judgmental. It taught me to be confident in my decisions fashionably, academically, socially.”
Jessye encourages first-year Duke women to know who they are. “Know your passions and your limits -- and stick to them. Be comfortable with yourself. Be confident in yourself, in your choices. Stand by your convictions. Look inside to yourself, not to others, to define who you are. Be grounded in yourself and nobody can shake you. It is, I think, the key to happiness.”
Jessye is a citizen of Planet Earth and is doing her best to steward its resources. In 2014-15, she will be serving as a Hart Fellow, through Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, with Friends of the Earth Middle East to develop a strategy to coordinate efforts in 28 Israeli and Palestinian communities to improve water management resources in the Lower Jordan River Valley.