We spoke with Mulkerin about his internship, balancing graduate school responsibilities, and how to stay hopeful in tough times.
Tell us about your IPSS mission.
I work with Green Valley, which is a small non-profit organization focused on urban agriculture and expanding food security, especially for members of the San Jose community who are multi-ethnic. They try to focus on fruits and vegetables that aren’t readily available in grocery stores and those that are culturally significant to the diverse community that is San Jose.
How has your immersion in this work added to your curriculum?
It means becoming part of the work you have studied. You are part of the organization. I feel like I’m really part of the team – I apply the skills I learned in graduate school to the organization and really see results and get feedback.
One of the things I’m working on for this internship is developing a cost-benefit analysis related to water in San Jose. Due to the cost of water and water use limitations there, we ask, “Is it profitable for people to garden in their backyards, or what steps could people take to make it more profitable, like capturing water? throughout the year, so that in the summer when there are drought water restrictions, you can still water your vegetables and not lose all the spring planting work? This research is something that I could not have done before obtaining this degree. It’s still a bit daunting to figure out how to do it, but Middlebury gave me the resources and support I hoped I’d need to complete this project.
Did anything surprise you about your field experience at Valley Verde?
It’s a very small organization, but what surprised me was the hard work and determination of the employees. They have a lot to juggle, and like most nonprofit employees, they have to work very hard with limited resources most of the time. It forces you to work harder, but you make sure the work you do is better – you want to make sure you don’t let anyone down, so that’s really motivating in a lot of ways.
How did your experiences in the Peace Corps help direct you to Middlebury Institute?
Certainly my time in the Peace Corps has made me particularly interested in international environmental policy, which is one of the areas of interest of the Middlebury Institute. When I was in Senegal, there was a lot of plastic everywhere, and I learned during my time there that the United States was shipping our “recycled” plastics to Senegal, and they didn’t have the resources or the waste management systems in place to manage their own waste, let alone the waste of the United States. So learning about this kind of stuff opened my eyes to say “this needs to stop now – we need policies to stop these things from happening and improve our environment”. I realized how urgent it is to protect the environment and I believe that politics is the best way to achieve this, which is why I chose this study program.
How do you balance the many demands of higher education, including academics, work experience, and social activities?
It’s something I had to work on throughout graduate school, but I think it’s really important. The number one thing I enjoy is completely shutting down on weekends – giving my brain a chance to shut down, reading books I like on different subjects other than what I’m studying . And if you can’t do both days, at least make it one and go for a bike ride, eat ice cream – do all the fun things. You should always prioritize the people in your life, make sure you spend time with them, and make those connections with the people you love and care about. If you look back one day and realize your head was still in the computer, you’re going to miss these things.
What gives you hope for the future?
Some days—I won’t lie—you don’t feel like there’s a lot of hope, especially as a young person when you’re studying environmental destruction and all that stuff. But at the same time people wouldn’t be studying international environmental policy if there wasn’t hope for it, so having other students in the class means there are other people working for change, even if you don’t see it right now. It will come, and it will continue to come because more and more generations are interested in peace and environmental protection, equity and inclusion. There are people who fight for this every day, so even when it feels like we’re not going to make it, firstly, it’s not a way to live, and secondly, why should I doubt all my peers who work so hard? I think there’s hope and I’m looking forward to maybe 20 years from now when we can look back and say, ‘Wow, that was a tough time, but we did the right things. things, we stuck together and we did it.”