Rising senior Jisoo Kim has been involved with the green scene at Penn from the very beginning—and now she’s in Paraguay doing amazing, sustainable things for the future.
Street: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’re involved with at Penn.
Jisoo Kim: I’m a senior now, apparently! I’m from San Jose, California, and I’m a proud Earth Science major concentrating in environmental science. Everything I’ve done at Penn has been related to that, because environmentalism has been a lifelong interest. I was interested in environmental policy for a while, so I was in a few political clubs. I’m now the coordinator for Eco–Reps, which is the green campus partnership at Penn. I was in the first class of Epsilon Eta, and that about covers my life at Penn!
Street: So you’re in Paraguay for the summer! Why there?
JK: I am a research intern for a nonprofit call Para La Tierra. They conduct studies on all sorts of wildlife (ecology) in this country, because there are very specific habitats that are linked to this part of the world, but have been vastly understudied. Because when you think of South America, you think of the Amazon and how there’s this amazing biodiversity there, and there absolutely is. But all the attention’s gone there, and there’s been very little attention to the ecology of Paraguay. The Amazon is this amazing famous thing, whereas the Atlantic Forest is just as diverse and large as well, but I never even knew that existed until I came here. As well as Paraguay being a landlocked country in between more famous countries, the fauna here has already been covered in Argentina and people think that’s the end of the story, but it’s not. I’m here because within environmental science, which is really broad, I hadn’t really learnt much about ecology, and I wanted to explore that part of environmental science while continuing to explore another country—it’s my first time in South America.
Street: What exactly are you doing over there/what’s your typical day in Paraguay like?
JK: Every intern has their own independent project that they select and design with the guidance of inter-coordinators. I decided to study the biodiversity of fish in this part of Paraguay—in the lower Paraguay river. My average day will be going out into the field. Our organization is based in a small city right now, so we have our house, but then it’s a short drive to non-urbanized spaces that we refer to as field sites. We’ll go out, and then spend a few hours catching fish and setting up nets and traps and trying to get a wide variety of fish to get a full sampling effort. I’m also gonna look at certain environmental variables to see if there’s any correlation between the species that we find and how they are affected by their local environment. So we record those variables and those species, and then we come back to the house and then take photographs of the specimens and record all the relevant information, like the depth of water, the weather that day, etc., and organize the data for that day. In any spare time I have, I’ll add to my literature review or work on the write-up and analysis. Since it’s the beginning of my project, there’s still details to be hashed out, and I’m always thinking of new variables to look at and how to make this project as interesting as possible.
Street: Why specifically fish? What was the inspiration behind this project?
JK: I narrowed down what I wanted to study to fish, birds, or monkeys. I knew I would get a taste for the monkey research through a recent field trip where the organization’s primatologist has been working for a long time. I wanted to diversify my experience here—it’s only 3 months, it’s kind of a long time but also not. It seemed like there was more of a need for research on fish (though not significantly needed more because this organization is new and everything is needed/useful). In addition to that, my senior thesis research for honors environmental science, should also deal with fish (that’s the plan right now!). I thought it would be a good idea to gain more experience in that heading into senior year.
Street: How do you think you will bring those experiences in Paraguay and connect them to your studies/time at Penn?
JK: Any application of what I’ve learned at Penn is the reason why I decided to go to Penn and how I choose to spend time outside of Penn. So that relates to how I studied abroad in Spain and how that really built my language skills, how I feel like my Penn experience has prepared me for international research. Being an environmental scientist, you can work literally anywhere and find something to do. This just falls in line with my philosophy how I imagine any environmental science career to be.
Street: How would you characterize being in the “green” scene at Penn?
JK: This is something I’ve said time and time again and I still stand by it. There are so many different opportunities to be involved with at environmentalism at Penn in some way. We have a ton of academic offerings, and I’ve been a part of that department from day one. We have really amazing professors—coming in as a freshmen, I didn’t grasp the gravity of their work, but they really do amazing things. On the extracurricular side, you have so many options, from SSAP, which is a huge entity with so many different niche groups, to the Bee-Keeping Society (not sure if that’s its official name). On the employment side as well, I’ve held a summer internship with Green Campus Partnership and Eco-Rep coordinator (that is my work study job). My work study job sophomore year was research assistant with someone who works at Wharton’s Institute for Global Environmental Leadership, and that was following my interest in environmental policy. I feel like I’ve had my fingers in every pie, and I feel like I’ve proved that you can make of it what you will. Even if you don’t agree with how the university approaches climate action, or that the majority of students don’t seem to care the way you do, you can’t deny that there are options to get involved at Penn in some way.
Street: Do you see yourself working in environmental affairs in the future? Non-profit sector
JK: Right now I’m pretty set on devoting my life to environmental research, so going on to grad school right after college, going on to get my PhD in something in the broad field of environmental science (I’m really not sure yet!). From there, go on to academia or public service, like, I spend one summer working with the US Department of Energy, which was a research internship that I consider public service since that research is ultimately being used for the people. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive—I can be in academia for a bit, and then do research for government, and then come back, I don’t know. I’m not ruling out the private sector either, there’s some cool stuff to be done there too. But I think research is the route I’ll take. I’m not sure the nonprofit route is for me, based on my past experiences with them, and how they fit into our collective approach to environmental issues.
Street: What inspired your passion for the environment, even before Penn?
JK: I grew up camping with my family, so the outdoors always seemed very accessible to me. From there, it was very natural to start caring about taking care of wildlife, clean air, clean water, and just being cognizant of your individual effect on something bigger. And that just grew as I grew up, I started taking more action. In my middle school, I noticed that they didn’t have recycling bins yet, so I would bring in a basket from my house and then take all the paper home at the end of the week! I know, it was hilarious. I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to go into it, and then I took AP Environmental Science at my high school, and apart from the typical mid-college major crisis, I haven’t really questioned it since.
Street: If you could tell one thing to Penn students about the environment, what would you say?
JK: From the student perspective, behavioral change does matter, and it takes time and self-discipline. You will see on Locust or more environmental friends certain reminders to change your behavior, but you can find it within you to take that extra step and self-motivation to change your habits, not just cruise through your day. Being more mindful, even if it’s just turning off the lights. It’s probably easier than people think it is. It’s a matter of discipline, and it all adds up if everyone is equally committed.