Having been accepted into the Center for Environmental Ecological Design and Sustainability's Food Concentration, I registered for an environmental engineering course at Hampshire College, titled Sustainable Hampshire. On the first day, I learned that all the juniors in the class were to serve as teacher's assistants. I had never assisted a college class and was nervous that I had an insufficient amount of knowledge to lead a group in redesigning the recycling system of a school unfamiliar to me.
I wanted to be a good TA, so I set out to learn all I could about Hampshire’s current recycling system, its problems, and the available solutions. I made sure to acquaint myself with the facilities and to ask for clarification when vocabulary I didn't undarstand was used. I attended every meeting and volunteered to do a survey of the receptacles around the campus.
It wasn’t until I attended an important meeting with the Head of Custodians, the Head of Facilities, the Dean of Students, and some members of New Leaf (another student group working on the recycling system), that I realized how far I had progressed. Having arrived early, I sat on a bench in the hall, waiting for the room to clear. There were butterflies in my stomach. What if I didn’t know enough to contribute to the conversation? New Leaf had been working on their project for two years before this meeting. This was much longer than the two months that I had put in. I wasn’t even from this school. What did I know? I walked into the meeting and sat down. At the worst, I could just keep quiet while the others talked.
A Command of the Subject:
We presented our projects and proposals, discussing the problems on campus and offering solutions. I was surprised by how much I knew. I realized that all the work I had put in, getting to know the in's and out's of the school’s recycling system, had paid off, and I was proud that I was not only able to contribute to the conversation, but also to serve as mediator between the students and staff, acknowledging the validity of their statements, pointing out why some ideas wouldn’t work, and suggesting alternative solutions. I was no longer an outsider. I felt in control. It was exhilarating to know that I was helping to effect real change, if only on a small scale.