By CHRIS COOK
Duke Sports Information
During the school year, Duke rower Julie Rohde spends six days a week rowing with her teammates on Lake Michie, Duke’s home water located in Northern Durham. The lake covers 480 acres and is surrounded by trees and plant life, providing a scenic backdrop to the hours of work the Blue Devils put in every season.
After a summer learning what it takes to preserve a delicate ecosystem in Portland, Oregon, however, Rohde will view Lake Michie in a new light this season.
Rohde spent her summer with the Duke Engage Portland program and got her hands dirty – literally and figuratively – preserving Oregon’s expansive ecosystem. She and nine other Duke students partnered with a Portland-based non-profit organization called SOLVE, which aims to bring Oregonians together to create a better environment and promote more environmental stewardship in the area.
Over the course of two months, Rohde and her fellow Blue Devils became stewards themselves, helping to preserve a nearby stream by planting native plants to the area and removing other invasive species. The goal was to help shade the stream better and help with erosion to keep the area’s ecosystem intact. The group was also charged with maintaining the trees once planted.
“The neat thing about Portland is that it’s the only domestic [Duke Engage] program that’s entirely focused on environmental work,” said Rohde, who rowed with Duke’s second varsity eight last season. “So all of the students who were out in Portland got to work with an environmental non-profit. I chose the environmental program because that’s my major.”
Rohde also helped SOLVE with the administrative functions of the non-profit, assisting with office work and data reporting about how well her sites were doing while also working with volunteer groups of students and corporate volunteers. The experience was enough to push Rohde, a junior majoring in environmental sciences and policy, even further into a career of environmental service, a goal of hers since high school.
“Beginning in high school was when I really started to love biology and really wanted to help fix the environment, especially in the marine sector,” she said. “That’s my main goal, so I was really grateful to work with an organization that did work with water.”
Rohde noted that “marine” typically refers to the ocean, but all water systems tie together. The stream she helped maintain feeds into a river, and that river eventually feeds back into the ocean.
“So I like to think I’m helping out there, too,” she said.
While in Portland, Rohde was exposed to a culture of environmentalism that she had never experienced. A native of Purchase, N.Y., the varied Oregonian landscapes from marshland to mountains were new frontiers, but the collective passion of the Portland community left her even more impressed. Most restaurants, for example, provide compost bins and put it on the patrons to divvy up their waste accordingly.
“I think it’s definitely the culture out there,” she said. “I think everyone in general is just very aware. When you go to Portland and see the beauty out there, I understand why the community really cares about the environment and they really want to keep the surrounding area beautiful and vibrant. I think that’s what makes it unique.”
While the hands-on environmental work further affirmed Rohde’s career aspirations of working in the environmental arena, her biggest takeaway was that in order to affect significant change, efforts should be made to teach younger generations about the importance of caring for the planet. By teaching younger children to appreciate the life around them, Rohde explains, those children will carry that mindset with them when they’re adults.
For Rohde, her summer-long environmental education was enough to do just that.
“I think it just pushed me even more to work in the environmental sector. I’m really happy that I got to go out to Portland to help reflect on what I want to do when I ‘grow up,’ which is really only two years from now. The environment is going to have huge implications for my generation, and we’re going to have to make some big changes.”