Class of 2018: Kirsten White’s trek from Poquoson to the Peace Corps
During her time at Virginia Tech, Kirsten White, of Poquoson, Virginia, has discovered how seemingly small decisions and experiences can lead to watershed moments.
In May, White will graduate from Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment with a bachelor’s in geography and three minors: watershed management, sustainable natural environments, and geographic information science.
White has been accepted to the Peace Corps and plans to begin service within the next year. She hopes to work on coastal resources management and other water-related issues.
“Being accepted to the Peace Corps is my proudest achievement as a Virginia Tech student,” White said. “I feel like all of my smaller achievements have built up to this one, and I directly attribute that to my time in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. Everything I’ve done and everyone I’ve met has played a role in helping me get to this point.”
White first visited the Blacksburg campus during her sophomore year of high school and was impressed by the sense of community. When she applied to Virginia Tech, she chose to major in geography, a decision she says may have been indirectly influenced by her mother and sister.
“I decided on geography because I knew I wanted to go into an environmental field, but I wasn’t sure how,” White said. “Geography was broad enough that I could explore multiple paths related to the environment and human dimensions.”
“It also helped that my mom teaches geography and history at my high school, and I was her teaching assistant for a year before I graduated,” she continued. “We never really talked about what I would major in, so it’s amazing that we ended up going down the same path.”
White’s sister, Kaitlyn, who earned a geography degree from Virginia Tech in 2017, currently works for NASA as a geographic information system (GIS) technician. Kirsten says they both gravitated to geography out of a desire to discover the world.
“We’re from a really small coastal town,” she explained. “We’ve lived our entire lives there, so we always saw the same people and places. We traveled along the East Coast, but we’ve always had a subconscious desire to travel and to see and meet new people.”
In 2015, White channeled her desire to see the world into a study abroad program focusing on sustainability and conservation-based service learning. The four-week course took her to Australia and New Zealand, where she explored new approaches to conservation and ecological restoration through service projects focused on water resources and aquatic environments. During the trip, White participated in riparian restoration, ocean clean-up, and even collected data on the Great Barrier Reef.
“The experience helped reinvigorate my passion for sustainability,” she explained. “I had always known I wanted to use my geography background in an environmental field, but once I had the hands-on aspect, I realized I wanted to make sustainability and water resources a theme in my studies. That’s when I took on the minors in watershed management and sustainable natural environments in addition to geographic information science.”
White also took part in the college’s 2016-17 Leadership Institute, a year-long program designed to help prepare students for future leadership roles through the study of leadership styles and techniques. She credits the program’s highly personalized approach with helping her develop a better understanding of herself and her leadership goals.
“I’m so thankful to have been a part of the program. We learned specific traits that leaders should have, but it was all geared toward our personality types and what we needed to work on individually. I feel more confident moving forward, like I have a strategy to becoming the leader I want to be. I’m looking forward to going into the field and putting everything I’ve learned into practice in the Peace Corps,” she said.
White says she will miss the relationships she has built with friends and professors at Virginia Tech, as well as through her sorority, Alpha Chi Omega, and her on-campus job with Personal Touch Catering.
“Blacksburg has become my home,” she said. “I’m going to miss the personal community I’ve formed here. My friends have become like family, and my professors are so great. I really do attribute a lot of my success to professors and my advisor, Maureen Deisinger, who provided excellent guidance for me during my time at Virginia Tech. I know if I pursue further education, I still won’t have an experience quite this special.”