Passionate and driven are traits often used to describe Las Positas College’s environmental vanguard, Christine Kelly. The consequences of her traits are on campus — from the formation of the Students’ Organization for Sustainability (S.O.S.) to requiring the new food vendor to include composting written in their contract. With any success, she has paid the requisite amount of salt in sweat and tears.
Booking an interview with Christine Kelly is close to booking an interview with a celebrity. Not because she is a popular figure around campus nor is it because she has personal assistant writing down her appointments. Like anyone in-demand, her schedule is tight and organized in a little black notebook. Her class requirements, work duties, S.O.S. president responsibilities, deadlines and interviews are written down.
A typical week consists of classes one after the other with work in between and an S.O.S. meeting on a Wednesday at 4 p.m. Last semester, she clocked in a huge amount of research hours on biology, ecology and Native American culture for her Honors Project. More recently, she has been squeezing in practice for the presentation of that project on May 4at Stanford.
In addition to being the founder of LPC’s second environmentally centered club (the first one shut down because of a lack of members), she has acquired a grant for the school to establish composting on campus.
“She got a $5,000 grant from StopWasting.org.” Michael Ansell, LPC Chemistry instructor and S.O.S. adviser, said. “A student successfully getting a grant for a college is such a big deal.”
A student getting a composting grant for the school is comparable to an orphan getting sponsors to fund proper waste management in their orphanage. It’s a commitment that involves a lot of people. Seeing that LPC did not have visible infrastructure for sustainability, she stepped in to help.
“I just wanted to do something better that’s not necessarily related to my major,” Kelly said. “I just think that no matter what discipline you’re in, the environment is necessary for everybody.
Getting students to take active steps in helping the environment is one of Kelly’s passions. The first semester that S.O.S. was recognized as a club, she organized an art exhibition for Earth Day. Any form of media was accommodated as long as it had something to do with protecting the planet. In addition, she has been promoting Bike To Work Day. This year, it is on May 9.
Sharing her passion for the environment is not rooted in a profound epiphany or evangelical purpose. She was just raised that way.
“The biggest principle that has made me so environmentally conscious is just a sense of responsibility,” she said matter-of-factly. “I grew up being taught that my actions had consequences, and those consequences were mine, and I had to deal with them.”
At 14, she adopted a vegan diet and lifestyle. She educated herself about the perils of factory farming. Her sister, a conservation resource major at UC Berkeley, was a huge source of inspiration and information on environmental issues.
Standardized education did not suit Kelly well. She left high school in her junior year and took the exit exam. Right afterward, she worked at a massage school for three years and became a manager.
When that became boring, she took herself to the skies and learned to fly.
Maintaining a pilot license was becoming expensive, and in 2010, she enrolled in LPC.
“I’ve just been really curious about things, and I just feel this place is my equivalent of an amusement park,” she said about pursuing an education. “Everything sounds like fun and interesting. You can take any class and learn it.”
From then on, she has set her eyes on an Anthropology degree from UC Davis.
While satiating her thirst for knowledge, she has been building connections through S.O.S. and other pursuits.
“I just think that aside from what I’m studying, my goal here is not really to get a degree. It’s to learn something and be part of the community,” she said as if it was the easiest and most natural thing in the world.
While everyone else walks leisurely through LPC’s halls from one class to another, Kelly passes hurried and focused with no time to waste. Her long, wavy brown hair is usually held up in a bun by pen, pencil, or other writing instrument. By the speed of her walk and laidback attire, she is easy to miss as her colleague, Christopher Southorn, points out.
“You can walk by her on campus and have no idea about the things that she’s done because she just looks so ordinary,” Southorn, recently elected ASLPC and Biology Club President, said. “But she’s far from that. She’s extraordinary, actually.”
That extra means a shoulder leaden with responsibilities and tasks that she assumed for each academic and extracurricular commitment she has made. Sometimes, the work needed to accomplish something overwhelms her.
“I guess last week or this week, I sort of hit a breaking point,” Kelly said. “I just feel like I’m not living up to what I expect of myself. And I sort of broke down.”
During the 2012 fall semester, Kelly took global change class under Sarah Thompson. As her student back then, according to Thompson, Kelly gladly stepped in and spearheaded their entire class project. She worked out schedules of several students, sent out text messages and emails and tried to be on top of everybody. These duties swamped her.
“I think she became very frustrated at moments as it is very difficult to organize that many people,” Thompson said.
Outside of class, leading a club entails more organizing and rallying of students in order for it to just exist. Despite describing S.O.S. as a very driven organization that is efficient in getting results, Southorn noted that maintaining S.O.S. membership as required by LPC policy is a major concern for Kelly.
“I think she has concerns for the future of S.O.S. because it is a small organization, and it’s harder for them to bring new member in,” Southorn said. “And I think she has a lot of concerns that S.O.S. might not meet that at the start of fall semester.”
Challenges in extracurricular activities have not deterred her ability to mobilize an entire class for collective project.
“She was the boss, so to speak. She was in charge,” Thompson said. “I’ve never had a student take that role before. And it was fantastic. She was better able to provide communication between groups. She just served as a leader.”
“And just the tenacity. Sticking with the project,” Thompson added. “I think personal involvement, too. She believed in the project and wanted to make sure it was successful.”
Her success in the academe and commitment to the S.O.S. dispels some of her personal troubles. But then, it returns.
“I’ve had the tendency of sort of trying to take a lot and have a lot accomplished,” she said. “Sometimes you think you have a handle on it, but it comes back.”
Ansell has noticed her vexation over her various responsibilities.
“She has to pick her battles. You can’t win everything,” he said. “She’s creative, she’s passionate and she can do whatever she wants. But yes, pick her battles.”
To get through her battle and find her sense of calm, she turns to yoga — a class she dare not miss.
“Yoga is one of the things that keep me sane up here,” Kelly said. “But I’ve just got a lot on my plate, and so I think until this semester ends, I can’t really start to structure my time in a way that gives me more freedom to just take care of myself.”
Catherine Suarez, her Spanish instructor, has also served as a source of strength for as she shared her struggles with teary eyes.
“She was just there for me when I need to talk,” Kelly said. “She offers me advice and reminded me of the things that I have been able to accomplish. Because it’s easier to focus on the negative.”
Along the northeast side of the amphitheater stand two young trees. They are not small enough that wandering rabbits may devour them. They are not big enough that they provide shade. These trees were planted because of Kelly’s hard work and dedication. They are a reminder of how far she has come and how much farther she can go.