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Student profile: Mallory Culbertson

Mallory Culbertson started taking classes at Spokane Community College as part of Running Start and went on to earn her Associate of Arts degree before transferring to UW. She grew up attending Earth Adventure Camp every summer in elementary school and taking camping trips with her family; these early experiences shaped her love for the environment, and ultimately led her to declare Environmental Studies as her major.

Coming from a large family made the costs of college a barrier, and the local community college offered the support Mallory was looking for. Mallory says community college offers good preparation and a valuable transition point between high school and a university experience. She attributes that period in her academic career as the time when she set good habits for completing homework on time and developing a sense of autonomy.

In addition to coming from a merged family of 13 children, Mallory chose to do independent studies for most of high school, so community college was pivotal in learning how the higher education system works. And she’s definitely taken advantage of the vast opportunities the UW campus has to offer.

As a 2014 Citizen Science intern for Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a recent canvasser for Environment Washington and a chapter chair of the UW chapter of WashPIRG, Mallory has set a high bar for academic success and community involvement.

Mallory recommends that transfer students dive right in when they arrive on the UW campus. She shares that “one of the big, scary things about transferring is feeling you don’t know anybody but feeling a little bit older than the other students; freshmen stuff just doesn’t feel like where you want to be.” For her, it was helpful to go to student events and seize exciting opportunities.

As part of her first Environmental Studies class (ENVIR 100), she started a service-learning project with COASST. She leveraged this class project into an internship after the class ended, earning credit for her internship and tacking on credentials to build that all-important resume. Mallory is also active on social media as an advocate of change for issues she’s involved with.  

In another class, Attaining a Sustainable Society (ENVIR 439), which reveals integrative approaches to protect the long-term interests of human society, Mallory heard a representative from WashPIRG talk in class; she started helping out as a volunteer for the grassroots organization and progressed to the leadership role she enjoys today as UW Chapter Chair. Mallory’s work for WashPIRG involved delivering the student voice to Washington legislators, and just this year she met with staffers at Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell’s offices. The legislators whipped the votes in favor of allowing the EPA to move forward and close the loopholes to restore stream and wetland protections under the Clean Water Act in Washington State.

In terms of her aspirations after college, Mallory is interested in building sustainable communities– “I can definitely see my experience with WashPIRG and COASST being really beneficial for a career in sustainability, since it is such a combination of policy and community cooperation.”

Her advice to current community college students is to be persistent in getting an appointment with an adviser; they have a lot of helpful information regarding researching universities and determining the best fit for the type of degree a student is pursuing. Don’t forget that getting involved on campus doesn’t have to wait until joining the university campus.