Katelyn (Katie) O’Neil, who graduated in December with degrees in environmental studies and Spanish, has won a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English and work on a project devoted to sustainability in Cali, Colombia, starting in October.
Originally from Freeport, Maine, O’Neil aspires to be an international teacher —and already has extensive experience teaching and living abroad. As a high schooler, she lived in Spain and Nicaragua. After graduating early as a junior, she lived in Mexico, where she worked on environmental education. She also spent time at a nonprofit housed in a Guatemala City garbage dump, where she taught adult literacy and helped start a library.
While at SCU, O’Neil studied in Peru as part of a program focused on indigenous people and globalization with the School of International Training. She conducted research on environmental and economic sustainability in a community in the Andes, and learned to speak some of their Quechua language.
Environmentalism is a family affair for O’Neil, whose family composts and grows their own food in coastal Maine. Her mother works in environmental policy for the Maine League of Conservation Voters, and helped get passed the new law banning styrofoam in Maine, a first in the nation. Her brother studied environmental science at Colby College, before starting an aquaculture company growing scallops.
O’Neil also taught English as a Second Language through Santa Clara Community Action Program (SCCAP) to a female custodian at SCU. “She is the most determined person I’ve ever met,” said O’Neil of her ESL student from El Salvador. “She’s so inspirational, so committed to learning every morning, even when she’d been up all night working, cleaning up after us. It didn’t really leave much room for me to feel sorry for myself in any moment of academia.”
O’Neil also took five Experiential Learning for Social Justice courses at SCU (which only requires one), including joining a reflection group with the Las Madres mother’s group in the Washington Neighborhood of San Jose, working with immigrants at the Mayfair Community Center, and learning about their problems with food scarcity. She also worked in the Bronco Urban Garden.
During the summer before she graduated, O’Neil was an associate with AmeriCorps in Maine, where she learned to write grant proposals and helped run a food pantry and a weekend food-in-a-backpack program for school kids. In the summer between her sophomore and junior year, she participated in the food-loss program of SCU’s Center for Food innovation and Entrepreneurship (CFIE, formerly named the Food and Agribusiness Institute.) There, she helped quantify the amount of produce local farms leave behind, as part of an effort to find ways to reduce such waste. At CFIE, “I got to see an angle of the tech world that I didn’t even know existed,” she said.