senior spotlight: marangela james ’24

Our 33 class of 2024 ENVS linked majors have primary majors in 15 different departments, from film to government to feminist, gender and sexuality to chemistry. This diversity reflects the deep and widespread interest in environmental issues on the Wesleyan campus and our incredibly fertile coexist community! Manangela James ’24 is a philosophy and environmental studies major who works at Olin Library and as a financial manager for the Green Fund. Learn more about Marangela, below!

Hi, Marangela! Where are you from, and how did you become interested in the environment?
I’m Marangela and I’m from Boston, Massachusetts. I’ve lived there my whole life. Before I came to college I already knew that I was going to major in environmental studies. I started with a promise to myself not to litter and my interest grew from there. I also worked on an island, called Thompson Island, off the coast of Boston, for two years before college. My first year we worked removing invasive species, and my second year we worked on beautifying Thompson Island and other surrounding islands in Boston. We did a lot of carpentry, making trails, and building boardwalks, while still removing invasive species. We cleaned up the beach, too. I knew that when I got to college, I wanted to study the environment and actually get to know what it means to be a part of an environment and what it means to take care of it.

What has your academic experience been at Wesleyan? What is your linked major, and what have been some of your favorite courses? 
My linked major is philosophy. I am concentrating in Race Theory within philosophy. Environmental studies and philosophy have complemented each other well. I’ve really enjoyed The  Philosophy of Law/PHIL273 and Critical Philosophy of Race/PHIL211.

Where did you study abroad? 
I spent one summer in Costa Rica, in Monteverde. I worked in a cloud forest—it was a really cool experience—and I was able to explore the local culture and learn about ecotourism.

I wanted to go abroad, but I also play squash on campus. So I decided to go during the summertime, through a program called CIEE. I went for a month, and it was the best experience I’ve ever had. I met good people, and learned a lot about Costa Rica. CIEE has its own base, a campus, depending on which location you go to. I think my highlight was when we got up at 3 am to take a boat ride from Costa Rica and watch the sunrise. It was very serene, and a moment I never could have experienced here.

What kinds of classes did you take during study abroad? What did you learn? 
I took a class on the Tropical Development of the Cloud Forest! We didn’t really spend much time in the classroom—it was experience based, so we went on field trips. We went about our month as if we were tourists, and learned about the tourism industry in Monteverde. It is the main source of revenue, but it can be both good and bad. We had the opportunity to do some of the popular tourist activities, like going ziplining, and we went to another island off the coast of Costa Rica called Chira. On Chira they rely on oyster farming, but there are problems with overfishing and overharvesting, which is causing environmental problems.

I’ve decided to write a senior essay on my experience being abroad. I want to talk about how ecotourism has changed over the time of the COVID pandemic. A lot of people are not going to the forest anymore; because of climate change, a lot of species that used to inhabit the forest are not there. Because of that, locals in Monteverde are not able to sustain their regular life. A lot of people are farmers, and with climate change and soil erosion, people can’t farm anymore, so they can’t make a livelihood.

There are also people who go into Costa Rica and buy land and houses there, and most of those people end up renting it  to somebody else. The people who  are most affected are the ones that stay there forever. I feel the locals have a lot of pride about where they come from. It was really empowering to be there and learn about how they’re moving away from big industrial farming and going more to aquaponics or organic farming. Some of the main crops produced in the area are coffee and bananas, and they’re so good! The fresh fruit there is just unbelievable. I don’t even drink black coffee, but the richness of it was so good, I could drink it all day!

Have there been any professors on campus who you have found especially influential?
Barry Chernoff is my advisor. He has a variety of life experiences and it’s exciting to hear about them! I think the professor that I’ve done the most with so far is Helen Poulos. I took her Fire Ecology course, which was a really great class and something different from many of the other courses I have taken at Wesleyan. I like the way Helen teaches and how she is really passionate about the work that she does. I feel she also offers a lot of opportunities for students to really get involved with her summer research.

What extracurricular activities have you been involved in during your time at Wesleyan?
I’m on the squash team. It can definitely be challenging being a student-athlete and finding balance. However, once you get into the rhythm of it, it flows well, and I have an outlet that I can use to get out all my energy and then resume classwork later. I also work at Olin Library. I’ve worked there all four years, and it’s a good space where I can sit down and focus. I’m also on the Green Fund. I joined at the beginning of my sophomore year, and I just love the people on it. I’m a financial manager, and that’s different for me because I’m not really into finance and math or anything related, but it’s been both challenging and good. It definitely keeps my mind going every time I hear a new project proposal. I really like learning about all of the new ideas and meeting new people and seeing what they’re doing on campus. 

What does the Green Fund do?
The Green Fund gets an allotted amount of money at the beginning of the school year, thanks to students checking the option to give $15 for the Green Fund found on their  tuition bill. When students come to us and they want to, for example, get compostable silverware, we can fund that project and  make campus a little bit more sustainable. We only approve projects that the entire Green Fund board agrees on. The people on the Green Fund are super nice, we all think similarly, and we want to make this campus better, so we don’t usually disagree.

Do you have any advice for younger students with similar interests?
I would tell students to take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. Also, it’s important to get to know faculty members, because making connections is important. And don’t be shy, even as a first-year, to get involved in any club activities. People are nice, and especially in environmental studies, people are enthusiastic and passionate.  

Is there anything you are looking forward to in the future?
I hope when I graduate I will get a job in this industry, or with an organization that is inclined to make their company or program more eco-friendly. I am interested in lots of different areas, especially agriculture. I hope that I can use what I learned at Wesleyan and carry it into the workplace!