Young Alumni Spotlight: Davidsonians & Sustainability
Two young alumni share how their experiences with Davidson’s Sustainability Office got them to where they are today, post-Davidson.
Find Me At The Meadow: Azella Markgraf ’21
Azella Markgraf ’21 is a recent Davidson College graduate (Anthropology and Environmental Studies) and the current farmers’ market manager at the non-profit organization, Countryside Food and Farms, in Akron, Ohio.
On Saturday mornings, you can find me at the meadow. That’s what I usually say when I meet new people who ask me what I do. As a farmers’ market manager in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, no two days are exactly the same. That is, except Saturday mornings. At 6 a.m., I arrive at Howe Meadow to greet the 70 local farmers and producers who gather weekly to share their products with the community. For three hours, we come together to celebrate the beauty of fresh, local foods, and to uplift the people who grow that food.
In between markets, I spend my time building systems to support small farmers, preserve farmland, and create a just, equitable, and sustainable local food community in and beyond the Cuyahoga Valley. Most days, that means visiting farms and interviewing local farmers, developing community outreach strategies, researching best practices, or even just exploring the valley landscape by bicycle. With an extensive job description, I need a large toolkit of skills and knowledge to successfully fulfill my responsibilities. Luckily, being a student at Davidson College prepared me with exactly that.
While at Davidson, my academic experiences taught me how to analyze the complex social and environmental systems that shape our world. I learned to approach the world with curiosity and to always dig deeper for the root causes of a problem before jumping towards solutions. My instructors demonstrated bold leadership in creating a more just world. Davidson gave me the opportunity to study in four different countries and learn two new languages, connecting me with individuals from all over the world. The experiences, knowledge, and research capabilities that I gained at Davidson have become an essential part of my personal and professional character, and have enriched me not only as an employee, but as a human.
Beyond the classroom, I was able to gain professional experience that has been essential to my development as a young professional. As a student employee with the Sustainability Office, I managed a team to plan large-scale events and increase the support for sustainability efforts on campus. I got deep into the “nitty-gritty” and, at times, tedious work of institutional sustainability, which helped me identify my strengths and build upon them in tangible ways. I volunteered on the board of a local nonprofit organization, where I was immersed in the often-chaotic world of nonprofit leadership. As a trip leader with Davidson Outdoors, I learned to trust my leadership skills and push myself beyond my comfort level.
Contrary to what I would’ve liked to believe as an incoming freshman at Davidson, after graduation I don’t have it all figured out. I’m not sure where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing a few years from now. But, that’s part of what’s so beautiful about a Davidson education. No matter where I am, what I want to do, or what life throws at me, I can reach into that Davidson toolkit and be prepared with a range of valuable skills to meet the moment with courage and competency.
Would Do It All Over Again: Chris Chao ’22
Chris Chao ’22 is an Environmental Studies graduate from Durham, North Carolina, who participated in a variety of groups on campus, including the Men’s Division 1 Swimming and Diving Team.
Following my graduation, I’ve been asked constantly: “Would you do it all over again?” My answer is always “absolutely!” My sophomore year, a professor recommended the Sustainability Scholars Program, which paired students with local organizations for summer internships. I worked with TreesCharlotte to restart the Mecklenburg County Treasure Tree Program–a program aimed at cataloging the most significant trees around Charlotte. I loved every second of it. Following this internship, I leveraged my new connections to launch a similar program specifically for the Town of Davidson–forming the basis for my senior honors thesis. The rest is, as they say, history!
When the time came to start thinking about post-Davidson plans, I knew I wanted to go directly into a graduate program to focus specifically on urban planning and historical home preservation. I was lucky to be accepted into every master’s program I applied to–the same six schools that rejected me for undergraduate admission were now offering substantial merit scholarships. I met with program coordinators, potential advisors and professors at every potential school, and they all mentioned how impressive Davidson graduates are. The Davidson name and phenomenal reputation really does make a difference. I chose UVA because every alumnus I met talks about Virginia the same way I talk about Davidson. My opportunities at Davidson made me a strong graduate applicant but, more importantly, gave me lifelong friends, a phenomenal alumni network and wonderful memories.