Senior Environmental Studies Major Maamie Appiah in the General Chemistry Lab in Thomas A. Steitz Hall of Science.
Photo by David Baldwin.
***What does it mean to be engaged, to be empathetic, and to strive for understanding at Lawrence University? What does fulfillment at Lawrence University look like, and more importantly, what does it look like in action? This column strives to ask these questions and search for answers by having conversations with seniors working on their Senior Experience Projects here at Lawrence on how they are using their studies and passions as tools to create.***
Students at Lawrence University often find that their studies shape them in ways they did not anticipate. This could be through discovering new interests, the right major, or committing to a newfound passion. In these situations, the personal discoveries might seem intimidating, but they have the potential to uncover untapped opportunities. Senior Maamie Appiah started out as a Psychology Major her freshmen year with the hopes of potentially becoming a lawyer, but now three years later, is an Environmental Studies Major. Appiah is passionate about using her education to inspire the choices she makes and the opportunities she pursues.
One of Appiah’s favorite things about Environmental Studies is how it bridges the gap between lab work and the real world. On this note she stated, “I took organic chemistry last year and we talk a lot about how drugs are structured and how that affects the body. I took a trip to Milwaukee for a practicum I was doing last term and while I was there I visited a lab. We were talking about how the drugs that we take affects not only our lives, but other forms of life.”
Appiah elaborated on her studies in Milwaukee: “For example, the drug Metformin is used to treat Type Two Diabetes. Metformin is structured in a way that the body expels it the same way it goes in; digestion doesn’t break down the drug. So, when it gets out into the sea, it goes out in the same form it was in originally, which means a lot of fish are able to eat it. But what we’re finding is that when the fish eat Metformin, it causes them to experience a sex change. All because of the drug. Isn’t that wild?”
Through her studies, Appiah has gained several major takeaways that have impacted not only how she views her academic life, but how she views her life in general too. She elaborated on this subject as she stated, “I did my field experience in Sierra Leone last year. In class you talk about how we do field work, so when you go to do the actual work you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m all ready!’ But then you get there and it’s a whole different ball game. I learned I needed to be versatile. And now I know that you can never be fully prepared for things. You have to go into things with an open mind and adjust for what different situations require. You can’t complain, you’ve got to work with what you have in the moment.”
“I know for sure I will have my Senior Experience Project based in Ghana, where I am from,” she explained. “There is a special place in my heart for Ghana. And I will also look at certain research from Jamaica, where I’ll be doing field experience work this spring.” Appiah went on explaining the foundation for her Senior Experience Project: “Right now I’m looking at two ideas that I’m trying to explore. The first is something related to water-born diseases. Because that’s still such a relevant problem, even in America. And in less-developed countries, there are so fewer resources to take care of the issue.”
“If that doesn’t work out,” she continued, “I’m also interested in exploring the Sustainable Development Goals and looking at how far Ghana and Jamaica have gone in implementing these goals.” The Sustainable Development Goals refers to a set of goals that the UN develops for all nations; and Appiah would be interested in understanding how Ghana and Jamaica are working to meet these environmental and sustainability-centered goals.
Appiah’s major interest in applying her Senior Experience Project to Ghana and Jamaica stems from her interest in understanding how sustainability can function in marginalized communities. She stated, “Because I’m from Ghana, growing up the things I saw and heard about made me very aware of the change that needs to happen in terms of people and their environments. That’s really a big part of why I’m studying environmental studies. Long term I’d like to go into making sure how their lifestyles affect their environments and how to adjust their lifestyles in healthy and sustainable ways to them and their communities.”
As Appiah looked back on her nearing four years here at Lawrence, she continually stressed the need to be open to new ideas and to let those ideas uncover new paths that had gone unnoticed. In this vein of thought Appiah stated, “I feel like a lot of people come here not knowing what they want to do or very certain of what they want to do. And there’s nothing wrong with either situations. But it’s helpful as a student in the liberal arts to take classes outside of your known interests or your general education requirements, it’s helpful to take other classes that sound interesting, because you never know.”
Appiah also emphasized that there can be an overwhelming pressure as a new student to be a part of every event at Lawrence. She stated, “Lawrentians tend to think that they need be involved in everything at the same time. And it’s okay not to be. Pick two or three things that you’re really passionate about and work towards them. It’s really important to know that you’re not obligated to do everything. You need to find focus and do it to the best of your abilities.”
As Appiah finalizes her plans for her Senior Experience Project, she is keeping an open mind to where her research might lead her. This open mind has guided her through finding the right major, through her field work and through her whole ongoing academic experience. She is eager to learn and she is open to understand new and compelling ways that she can work with others to solve problems.