2018 Sullivan Award recipient Sarah Coffey is a leader and a champion for environmental issues
People at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida can tell you right off the bat why Sarah Coffey was an ideal candidate for a Sullivan Award.
“Oh, where to begin with Sarah?” says Wendy Anderson, professor and chair of Stetson’s Environmental Science and Studies Department. “My experience mentoring Sarah and watching her blossom is almost too sacred to be distilled to a few soundbites.
“She is a superstar student, of course. But, I would add this: Sarah has a heart of gold and a compassionate and humble spirit. She is genuinely thoughtful and caring to both those she loves and those whom she feels called to serve. Motivated by an overwhelming empathy for all people and creatures—the very living earth itself—Sarah wakes each day striving to make a difference in every moment of the day.”
When Coffey received her award in May, it was the culmination of a tremendous collegiate career in the classroom and the community. Both her academic and her service work center on environmental issues—Coffey has a passion for nature that’s difficult to understate.
“I guess what I want to do is just change people’s way of thinking [about the environment],” she says. “And I want to try to inspire people to be compassionate.”
A servant and an activist
As a student, Coffey was especially passionate about engaging children in gardening and in teaching the importance of growing their own food. She headed the campus garden club, Hatter Harvest, and volunteered with Boys & Girls Clubs.
Coffey also worked to halt the abuse of migrant labor in Florida’s agricultural industry, working with local members of the Farmworker Association of Florida, a group dedicated to equity and justice. Her devotion to the cause even prompted her to learn Spanish.
A remarkable resumé
Coffey became the university’s first Environmental Values Fellow as a first-year student, a 2016 Udall Scholar for her environmental initiatives and engagement with the Stetson community, and a 2017 Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellow by virtue of her social-justice activism. For good measure, she also tallied all straight A’s in the classroom as an environmental science and geography major.
The Udall scholarship provided the chance to explore fields related to health care and tribal public policy for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The Newman Civic Fellows Award, another national distinction, honored Coffey as a member of the “next generation of public problem solvers and civic leaders.”
Most recently, in April just before graduation, Coffey was part of 2018 Posters on the Hill in Washington, D.C. Each year, 60 top student research projects are selected from hundreds of applications, with students and their faculty mentors presenting research on Capitol Hill. Coffey’s research centered on the fire history of the San Juan Islands Washington.
Ready for the fight ahead
Part of Coffey’s admiration for nature comes from just how much of it she’s seen, having lived in New Mexico, Oregon, Maryland, Connecticut, Virginia, and Florida. An appreciation for nature in all its forms was built into her upbringing.
“I grew up with a personal relationship with the natural world and have always recognized this as an integral part of what it means to be human,” says Coffey. “It is distressing to see how many of us have lost this connection.”
Undaunted, Coffey intends to forge ahead. Her next stop is the Forestry and Environmental Conservation Department at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), where she will continue her education with an emphasis on community food forests. Not surprisingly, she has a paid assistantship waiting for her, and research is already planned for this summer.
This story was adapted from an article by Michael Candelaria of Stetson University. To read the original piece or to read more Stetson news, visit stetson.edu/today.