Jun 8, 2010
By Monica Chapman
Shower in the rain. Check.
Make yogurt. Check.
A diploma in environmental geography will mark the final check on senior Molly Shea's list of quarterly intentions, but her mark on the field has only just begun.
Having entered Ohio University as a self-declared "light green environmentalist," Shea's four years at OHIO have been marked by activism on a range of environmental and social justice fronts. But her passion doesn't stop at words or ideas. Dubbed by friends as a true "do-it-yourself queen," Shea's sustainable values are reflected in just about every aspect of her life – from hand-sewn clothes to hand-picked fare.
Her list of intentions – crafted in summer 2009 as a means by which to embrace the day – has added to Shea's already unique patchwork of talents. She can now successfully pick a tune on the banjo and tune up her bike (her primary mode transportation) – two of Shea's spring goals.
And though Shea has never shied away from the improbable, there seems to be added incentive to formalizing her intentions in writing. Had it not been for the list, she may have never hitchhiked, backpacked through an old growth forest, or read "Assata" during her final days at OHIO.
Shea also recently checked off "create a zine." Her publication, which will soon be available at shops across Athens, relates energy-saving tips employed at Ohio University's Ecohouse, where Shea currently resides. A university-owned house and learning center, the Ecohouse is dedicated to demonstrating affordable green technology and promoting ecologically sustainable lifestyles.
"It's nice to be able to live in a place that – in an institutional way – has sustainability built in," she said, adding, "No matter where you're living, you can try to reduce your footprint, but having solar panels to help reduce my coal dependence is something that is really important to me."
Coal has been a primary focus of Shea's activism – fostered through coursework, community contacts, student organizations, and campus speakers.
She has been heavily involved in the Ohio Student Environmental Coalition, through which Shea worked to prevent the construction of American Municipal Power's planned coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River in Meigs County. AMP-Ohio abandoned plans to build the plant last November, citing an unexpected cost increase as the determining factor.
Coal was also the focus of Shea's winter internship with Coal River Mountain Watch, an advocacy group out of West Virginia that opposes mountaintop removal mining. Shea will be returning to the company in the fall to work full-time on a volunteer basis. Until then, she will be taking a creative approach to activism while volunteering at Beehive Design Collective, a non-profit out of Maine, which uses graphic media to communicate stories of resistance to corporate globalization.
On campus, Shea has worked to promote a campus-wide culture of environmental mindfulness through OHIO's Office of Sustainability. She has also been involved in the Student Sierra Club, the Green Network and Student Senate, as well as local nonprofit Community Food Initiatives (CFI), during her years at Ohio University.
"She gets it – and students get her," said Director of Sustainability Sonia Marcus, who has worked with Shea for 2-1/2 years in the Office of Sustainability. "Molly is a well-tempered revolutionary, delighting in the prospect for change… She is the best prospect for a community organizer that I have had the pleasure of mentoring."
Shea's leadership in the sustainability arena has not gone unnoticed. Her efforts earned an Edwin L. Kennedy Award as well as a Pepsi Leadership Scholarship at Ohio University's 2008-09 Leadership Gala. She also garnered a Morris K. Udall honorable mention in 2009.
Associate Professor of Geography Geoffrey L. Buckley recommended Shea for the Udall through a letter of support. His reasoning was straight to the point: "She doesn't shy away from challenges, and she backs up her words with action."
Shea said it was Buckley's "Appalachia: Land and People" class that first interested her in mountain-top removal and its future impacts through a a class reading assignment, "Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness." It is this cause that will also fuel her work with Coal River Mountain Watch, where she will serve as a community organizer.
Shea's knack for applying classroom knowledge toward social gain has earned Buckley's highest regards.
"(Molly) has brought a level of passion to the classroom - mine at least - that is sometimes lacking," he said. "When I first became interested in teaching, I imagined that all college students were like Molly - driven to learn and eager to make the world a better place. Now I realize that students like Molly are rare indeed."
With just a few days left before graduation, Shea is busy frequenting her usual haunts – the Ecohouse, the Office of Sustainability, and a host of local concert venues – a bittersweet last hurrah before departing academia.
"This is the first place I've felt connected to in the way that I do," she said. "To leave a place that has taught me so much and shaped who I am is hard, but it's also exciting…The reward will be applying that knowledge in other places."