Amanda Brosnan, '21

December 7, 2020
Experiential education deepens understanding of leadership, environmental issues

Towering, snow-capped peaks. Dark green fir trees. A babbling mountain stream. This was how Amanda Brosnan, ’21, described her classroom in the Swiss Alps during part of her fall 2019 study-abroad semester. She and her classmates studied the relationship between climate, vegetation, and glaciers in the Alps, she said. They also visited Germany’s Black Forest to assess the impacts of climate change there.

“Everything came together,” Brosnan said about her study-abroad experience. “We learned about things and then went out and saw them firsthand.”

This kind of experiential learning is impactful, said the science leadership scholar, who is majoring in leadership studies and environmental studies. She experienced similar “aha!” moments in Dr. Thad Williamson’s leadership studies class Justice and Civil Society.

“We were connected to a greater purpose—the city of Richmond,” Brosnan said. “We applied what we were learning in class by volunteering in public schools and nonprofits. The course got us thinking about the intersectionality of issues and how to change the system. You can’t look at environmental justice in a vacuum—you’ve also got to look at income inequality, education, and other issues.”

The senior from Andover, Mass., seized other opportunities to apply her leadership and environmental knowledge. As an intern in the University of Richmond’s Office for Sustainability, she worked on a composting project and an initiative to reduce waste at Spider football and basketball games.

In March, with the support of a travel grant from the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, she participated in a six-day service-learning trip to New Orleans with the University’s SEEDS Project, a student-run organization that addresses social justice and environmental issues in specific communities.

“We looked at the lasting impacts of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the surrounding area,” Brosnan said. “We toured a retired oil rig to learn about how the oil industry impacts the environment.”

This summer she once again benefited from experiential learning when she completed her Jepson internship remotely with the Campbell Soup Company. She created a slideshow highlighting corporate responsibility and sustainability initiatives, produced content for the inaugural sustainability newsletter, and collected data on supply-chain emissions.

“I was the first intern ever for the company’s corporate responsibility and sustainability team,” Brosnan said. “Sustainability is an important part of consumer-packaged-goods companies and has become increasingly more prevalent in recent years. During my internship, I connected theories of leadership to what I saw, and I drew on my background knowledge of environmental science and policy.”

This semester, she has been working on her environmental capstone project with faculty advisor Dr. Todd Lookingbill. “I’m looking into the benefits of incorporating sustainability into the University’s general education curriculum,” she said of her project.

Brosnan plans to continue her work on environmental issues after graduation. “I want to orient my career in a way that has a positive impact on people,” she said. “If I’ve learned anything, it’s that people are hesitant to make changes. We have to be brave and confident enough to fight for changes to protect the environment. I’m optimistic.”