Becoming a true trailblazer: starting a business in Madagascar

I entered into Stony Brook Southampton in 2009, my second year at Stony Brook University – as what the school called a “Trailblazer.” That term always stuck with me, what really made me a trailblazer? This term followed me through my academic career as I tried to figure out what my path would be – and how I would live up to this title.

The river leading to the waterfalls of Ranomafana National Park.

The river leading to the waterfalls of Ranomafana National Park.

After graduation, I decided to study abroad in Madagascar with Dr. Patricia Wright of the Department of Anthropology at Stony Brook University. During this program I learned about pressing conservation issues and the strategies of solving them, but I also fell head-over-heels in love with Madagascar. Since that trip I dedicated myself to working there, I knew I had to work there – and after two years of life’s twists and turns, I went back. In the meantime I studied traditional herbal medicine, and took a chance on starting a small homemade cosmetic company- but I still constantly thought about Madagascar.

In Madagascar, 90% of the original forest has been torn down, and 90% of the flora and fauna are endemic. So conservation efforts are absolutely necessary. Madagascar is a wonderland, a true Jurassic Park; and as the story goes once you visit, you will inevitably come back.

Last year, I decided to come volunteer and live in southeast Madagascar for six months to better understand conservation issues and culture. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and take the leap, right? Well, this trip changed my entire perspective on everything – it was truly life-changing. But what I learned was that environmental and conservation issues need to be solved in multiple ways – we need to be innovative in solving these problems. So, I am starting a business here in Madagascar (no, I am not crazy).

Patricia Wright and I are having a meeting with the Association of Traditional Healers in Ranomafana, Madagascar. We are helping them set up a business for selling essential oils – all of which will be used in Ny’Ala Skincare.

Patricia Wright and I are having a meeting with the Association of Traditional Healers in Ranomafana, Madagascar. We are helping them set up a business for selling essential oils – all of which will be used in Ny’Ala Skincare.

Ny’Ala Skincare will be a line of products utilizing the exotic plants of Madagascar for their immense healing properties. Ny’Ala will work with Malagasy only, from the small farmers to local artisans to bring you the entire experience of Madagascar. When buying our products you are combating poverty, giving back to conservation efforts such as reforestation projects in Ranomafana, Madagascar, providing job stability, preventing rainforest destruction and empowering local artisans to keep their traditional crafts alive – all while treating yourself.

My plan for my company is to expand this model of using business as a driving force for real change – the more businesses adhere to models like this – the more real change we will see with pressing global issues such as poverty, hunger and environmental degradation. This is the idea of “Trade Not Aid,” which is providing commerce and trading abilities rather than temporary aid. Social enterprises are now everywhere, and it is so amazing to see capitalism turning into a vector for change. That is being a “Trailblazer” to me – being innovative, and just going for it.

Check Ny’Ala out online at and on Instagram @NyAlaSkincare

Me, drinking coffee and eating mofo (bread) in Kianjavato, Madagascar.

Me, drinking coffee and eating mofo (bread) in Kianjavato, Madagascar.

By Dana Cutolo
Environmental Studies Major
Study Abroad Program in Madagascar
Stony Brook University ’12

Studying sea turtles, serving as a mentor in science

Similar to the experience of most undergraduates about to earn their degree, my senior year at Stony Brook University was filled with bittersweet excitement as graduation neared and a new chapter in my life was to unfold. I graduated from SBU in 2014 with my B.S. in Marine Vertebrate Biology and a minor in Ecosystems and Human Impact through the university’s Sustainability Studies Program. For me, the next step after graduation was clear: grad school. Thus, I went on to begin my graduate studies this past fall at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).


Currently a 2nd year masters’ student, I am working under the guidance of Dr. David M. Kaplan to investigate sea turtle stranding events in the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay is a significant foraging and developmental habitat for thousands of juvenile sea turtles, however each year approximately 200-400 deceased sea turtles are found stranded on local beaches. The number of stranding events in Virginia waters has increased substantially over the years, a major concern for the long-term sustainability of turtle populations. For my graduate research thesis, I am using computer models and field drift experiments to determine likely locations of juvenile loggerhead mortality in the Chesapeake Bay. My research will be used to identify possible causes of mortality and highlight areas of focus for conservation.

The experiences I gained during my undergraduate program at Stony Brook University played a vital role in narrowing my passions within the field of marine science. I found many opportunities as a SoMAS student to directly immerse myself in the field, such as through hands-on lab courses on the Stony Brook Southampton campus and study abroad programs at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab, in Jamaica. Throughout my coursework, I began to form an acute awareness of the delicacy of aquatic ecosystems, raising questions about the sustainability of the marine realm. This spurred a desire to strongly integrate conservation in my future endeavors and led me to pursue the Ecosystems and Human Impact minor within the Sustainability Studies Program to supplement my degree.

My position as an undergraduate research assistant during my junior and senior years under the direction of Dr. Bassem Allam was perhaps my most valuable Stony Brook University experience in my development as a scientist. Working closely alongside graduate students, I dug deeper into scientific thinking and research and gained an invaluable look at the dedication and resolve that a graduate education mandates. Greatly inspired by the support and work of those around me, it was through this experience that I decided to pursue research and continue my education at a graduate level.

Today as a graduate student, I strive to form mentor relationships with students interested in pursuing marine science and provide the same encouragement, time and support that the individuals in my early career served me. I have been able to advise my own undergraduate student this summer and am looking forward to serving as a graduate teaching assistant this upcoming year. I am also excited to participate in VIMS’ GK-12 Program this fall, where I will be sharing my research and helping teach in a local middle school classroom.

Fueled by my enjoyment of research and desire to learn, I am thankful for the opportunities I had as a Stony Brook University student and the crucial impact it had on preparing me for this next chapter of my life. I am eager to continue pursuing my career and am excited to see what the future holds!

Marine Vertebrate Biology Major
Ecosystems and Human Impact Minor
Stony Brook University ’14

Teaching for a greener future

I graduated from Stony Brook University with a major in Ecosystems and Human Impact in 2011 and am currently working at Suffield Academy, a private high school in Connecticut, as a science teacher. I developed curriculum for two courses: Ecology and Elements Food Science: From Lab to Landfill. Since Ecology is mainly taught at a college-level, I modified the curriculum to align with the needs of high school students, while drawing inspiration from the Ecology, Ecology Laboratory, and Systems and Models, courses that I took at SBU, taught by Dr. Jim Hoffmann. These classes, as well as the many others that aiding in my ability to understand science, inspired my passion for science and taught me how to think like a scientist, thanks to the guidance of Dr. Hoffmann. I try to instill this perception of science as well as the passion for knowledge to my students and gear their learning towards the experience of learning, rather than making it grade-oriented. The course expands on the major Ecological themes and allows students to explore these concepts through many hands-on projects.

The food class draws inspiration from my time as a leader of SBU Garden Club at both the Stony Brook and the Southampton campuses. Additionally, I utilize knowledge gleaned from the teachings of Dr. Harold Quigley, Jr., the Integrative Collaborative Systems Studies’ corn course, and, especially, eco-aesthetics of art instructor Dr. Marc Fasanella. Dr. Fasanella mentored me during my independent research projects during which we explored scientific thinking and how it is perceived by the public, defining nature and human’s role, scientific philosophy, and drafting skills.

My food course expands utilizes some of these principles, especially those based around the perception of the natural world and the drafting skills so the students can design growing structures for the greenhouse.  The class also expands on the food industry, chemistry of food, food culture, diets, agriculture, managing the campus garden and greenhouse, planting seeds, and pest management.Additionally, I manage the campus greenhouse, utilizing the space to allow for students to plants seeds for the garden. Recently, a solar array was purchased and will be installed later in the year to run the heater, water pump for the rainwater collection system, and other appliances. I gained much of my knowledge of greenhouses from my time at SBU organizing the greenhouse at the Southampton campus as well as working with the greenhouse staff at the Stony Brook campus.

In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I am the faculty leader of the TREE Club (Teaching Responsible Environmental Education) and am charged with stewarding environmental thinking on campus with a group of students. I gained experience organizing groups during my time at SBU when I served on the board of many clubs and organizations; the Campus Beautification Committee, the Environmental Club, the Conservation Collective, the Sustainable Aesthetics Committee, the Organic Garden Club, and the Greening Committee. I, along with the student leaders of the TREE club, organize a campus-wide Earth Day event and plan to continue the tradition in the future.

Today I also aid in the stewardship of ecological thinking during my responsibilities as a faculty leader of the SOLO (Suffield Outdoor Leadership Opportunities) program. During this program, I work with a group of students to teach them ecological principles and naturalist skills during a variety of activities that include hiking, birding, wilderness survival, rock climbing, etc.

Working with my students in the classroom.

Me, left, working with my students in the classroom.

By Nick Zanussi
Sustainability Studies Program ’11
Ecosystems and Human Impact Major

Congrats, Sustainability Studies Program grads of 2015!

Dear Grads,

What does it feel like to be just over one week “graduated” thus far? We are very much looking forward to seeing the amazing places you will go and the great things you will do with your “new” degrees. We will also miss you very much, but invite you to come visit any time you’d like and encourage you to keep us updated with your latest news and achievements by email, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

Please enjoy these fun graduation photos! And best of luck in the “Real World!”

– The Stony Brook University Sustainability Studies Program 


Congrats, grads!


Our Director Dr. Heidi Hutner waves from the turf at the Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.


Walking toward a bright future!


They made it!

The next chapter in my sustainable career: Harvard

John Harvard statue, Harvard University campus, Boston, Massachusetts.

John Harvard statue, Harvard University campus, Boston, Massachusetts.

It’s fitting that today, May 6th–the final day of the HUD Energy Innovation Fund grant, which brought me to Boston two years ago to work with New Ecology, Inc.–is the day I close one chapter and officially enter a new one…

I’m incredibly excited and honored to officially accept a position with Harvard‬‘s Office for Sustainability‘s engagement team as sustainability manager of the Harvard Longwood Medical Campus!

The position is responsible for initiating, implementing and continually improving cutting-edge sustainability programs on Harvard’s Longwood Medical Campus in coordination with the facilities teams at the Harvard Medical School (HMS), the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH), and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. I will partner with students, staff, and faculty to manager a robust engagement initiative aimed at achieving the University’s sustainability goals, commitments, standards, and aspirations as envisioned in the Harvard Sustainability Plan.
The University has set forth ambitious goals for energy and water reduction among other things, but relative to many other areas of the University’s campus achieving these goals will be particularly challenging at the Longwood Medical Campus. The lab spaces, used for conducting research, have a disproportionately high energy use intensity ratio given the level of air exchanging, plug loads, and water requirements. Engaging with these lab spaces will be a significant portion of this position’s responsibility.
Additionally, I will have the opportunity to co-direct the activities of the Longwood Campus Green Team, participate on various committees to promote sustainability, education, well-being, and other program efforts, and develop a robust sustainability program to meet goals of HMS and HSPH.
On a personal level, I’m excited about the diversity of the position’s responsibilities and the breadth of the University’s Sustainability Plan. Though I’ll report directly to the Office for Sustainability, the position basically has a client-relationship with HMS and HSPH. One day I may be performing a waste audit with rubber gloves, the next a walk-through with researchers in their lab spaces in a white coat, and then meet with a Dean from the HMS in a suit.
The Harvard Sustainability Plan encompasses not just energy and resource reduction goals, but is progressive and holistic in its approach towards sustainability. In addition to energy and emissions, the plan includes campus operations, nature and ecosystems, health and well-being, and organizational culture and learning.
While some may assume an institution like Harvard is isolated in an Ivory Tower, the University understands that it is integrated with the communities it exists within and around. They also see the process as iterative and have developed (and continuously develop) feedback loops to expand learning and measure outcomes. I also see resiliency as being increasingly important for the community, a conversation I’ve been a part of since prior to Hurricane Sandy and see as extremely important as we work and live within the new paradigm of anthropogenic climate change.
Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 8.58.55 PMBy Adam Meier
Adam has just accepted the position of sustainability manager at Harvard Longwood Medical Campus as part of Harvard‬‘s Office for Sustainability‘s engagement team. Previously, Adam has worked as senior associate at New Ecology, Inc., and also at the Garrison Institute as a Climate, Mind and Behavior Program associate.

Sustainability Studies Program ’14 alum Jayme Liardi to publish his first book!

Congratulations to Sustainability Studies Program ’14 alum Jayme Liardi, who will be publishing his first book, Revelation: A Return to Virtue, this summer. Inspired by the way veganism, connecting to nature and simplicity changed his life, Jayme has developed his own health and lifestyle coaching philosophy to help others achieve success and happiness. His book, which details his transformation, will be available on his website in ebook, audiobook and paperback forms. Read the press release, below!

Revelation: A Return to Virtue

The Forgotten Voice of the Millennials

In a world of increasing decadence and disillusion, many of us simply abide by the conventions of this modern world without second thought simply because we believe it to be the apex of human ingenuity — that there is no alternative to the path of shallow materialism.

We Millennials are said to be the perpetuators and proprietors of said system. We buy into the Cult of Consumerism hook line and sinker; completely unaware of its malignant nature and become complicit in our own degradation from the inside out.

There is however the forgotten millennial who loathes the degenerate cultural conditions which dominate the modern world today — those who strive for something more…

Living in a comfortable trance of relative normalcy, we maintain a docile decorum. We allow ourselves to be sedated, placated by the latest gadgets, programmed by the decadent influences of Hollywood — distractions that keep us pacified, demoralized and reluctant to pursue a life of true nobility.

This book aims to strengthen the disenfranchised youth of today — to appeal to the virtuous spirit within that simply awaits awakening from its long slumber.

A w a k e n

This is my story
I left a world of comfortable complacency
Entered the realm of the living
On a quest
To analyze my beliefs
Discover my inner truth

They say we need a revolution
I say we need a R E V E L A T I O N

Question everything you understand to be true
Relentlessly examine established ideas
Meticulously challenge ingrained dogma
Test theories using praxis
Take back your power and awaken the warrior spirit

A r i s e

Perhaps you are ready to face the great delusion. Only by virtuous revolt will we stand a chance at combating this modern moral decay. The ideas, stories, and life experiments in this book are meant to enliven the warrior within—to awaken a dormant desire to live with greatness, dignity and honor. Perhaps my story, my struggles, can aid you in the battle for sovereignty.


Jayme Louis Liardi is a Long Island native and a graduate of Stony Brook University with a degree in Environmental Humanities and Theatre Arts. While Revelation: A Return to Virtue is his first venture as an author, Jayme plans to further develop his vision and refine the ideas expressed in this book. You can reach him at:

“Reading Revelation: A Return to Virtue, is an uplifting lesson on reflection and praxis shared through a personal journey. This book proclaims, challenges, motivates, and models. It is an important contribution to a swelling tide of independent thinking that just might lift humanity out of the muck and mire of a dispiriting age of delusional commerce.”
Marc Fasanella, PhD

Jayme Liardi
Sustainability Studies Program ’14
Environmental Humanities Major
Theater Arts Major

My college experience: finding inspiration and purpose

Andi (fourth from left) with her Sustainability Studies Program classmates and professor, Dr. Jessica Curran (far right).

Andi (fourth from left) with her Sustainability Studies Program classmates and professor, Dr. Jessica Curran (far right) during the 2014 Earthstock festival at Stony Brook University.

After graduating in May 2014 with my BA in Environmental Humanities, I knew it was time to move my career in sustainability forward. So I applied for an internship through the Student Conservation Association (SCA) for a position at a National Park in Vermont. During my phone interview, an SCA recruitment officer asked me: “Why do you want to connect people with nature?”

The perfect question. My response was: “I love nature, I love everything about it and I so desperately want to save it from a human-created demise. That being said, I don’t believe the world will try hard enough to save it unless it sees the environment as I do, as a nurturer. I want to dedicate my life to showing people to love our environment, so they will try as hard as I do to save it.” Or something along those lines. (It was probably crunchier; I was having a moment.)

In my response, I went so far as to quote Earth In Mind, a book by eco-critical author David Orr, which was included in the Sustainability Studies Program curriculum I followed at Stony Brook University. I find Orr’s work not only completely eye-opening, but absolutely inspiring. I find peace with his words and consolidation in his thoughts. Yet it’s incredible to think that I probably would have never read his work if I had not been exposed to it in my studies at Stony Brook.

Andi with one of her "muses," Dr. Heidi Hutner.

Andi with one of her “muses,” Dr. Heidi Hutner.

My answer to the SCA recruitment officer’s question was very much inspired by David Orr, but also by my Sustainability Studies Program professors. Not only did they give me direct inspiration with reading lists, but they served as the actual muses themselves. Dr. Jessica Curran is the reason I still keep a journal, have a blog and write haikus for fun. Dr. Heidi Hutner is the reason I got into activism. She taught me a new kind of passion, a protective and honest passion.

What’s funny is that before I was asked that question during the interview I would not have been able to tell anyone what I specifically wanted to do with my life. But that question was all I needed to realize that I wanted to go into environmental education. Now I am an interning as an environmental educator for N.Y. State Parks, providing experiences for people to have with nature, hoping that these experiences will lead them to love the environment as much as I do.

When people ask me about my experience at Stony Brook University I am not one of those people who complain about classes being too big or professors not knowing my name. That was not my experience. When I talk about Stony Brook I speak of how tight-knit my program was, how my professors not only knew my name but knew my dog and had my phone number. I talk about how I would get a text about a county legislature hearing happening the next day, and my professors would tell me to go, speak up: you must go out and make your voice heard if you’re going to change the world.

Andi engaging in environmental activism at the 2013 Clearwater Festival.

Andi engaging in environmental activism at the 2013 Clearwater Festival.

By Andi Burrows
Sustainability Studies Program ’14
Environmental Humanities Major
Today Andi is interning as an environmental educator with N.Y. State Parks.

Program alumna works to bring about positive social and environmental change

The Stony Brook University Sustainability Studies Program prides itself in not only what its students do inside the classroom. We’re also highly-focused on helping our students and alumni land meaningful employment in the sustainability sector. We’re especially proud of Shameika Hanson, a program alumna who graduated with her B.A. in Environmental Humanities in May 2014.

Shortly after graduating, Shameika was hired by Beacon, N.Y.-based environmental and social advocacy group Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. Working as Volunteer Coordinator and Events Supporter, Shameika helps unite people, specifically through music and education, so that they can work together toward positive environmental and social change. Music and education are the two key strategies used by Clearwater, which was founded in the late 1960s by musician and activist Pete Seeger, to bring about such changes.

Shameika Hanson (left) with Clearwater co-worker Linda Richards at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration in Beacon, N.Y.

Shameika Hanson (left) with Clearwater co-worker Linda Richards at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration in Beacon, N.Y.

On January 20, Shameika attended a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration in Beacon with Clearwater co-worker Linda Richards, director of music and events. Together the pair marched and sang, praising Dr. King for his achievements in civil rights. Shameika described King as “a great person who had great people behind him.” She added, “There’s still work do. We should all be Dr. Kings.”

In her new position at Clearwater, Shameika embraces the spirit of King and other great activists. Through music and education, she encourages Clearwater volunteers and the public to get involved in their communities to help other people and the environment.

The full story on Clearwater’s involvement in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration in Beacon can be found here.

10703940_1559539617601997_6697722301419347272_nShameika Hanson
Sustainability Studies Program ’14
Environmental Humanities Major

Finding fossils and my niche in paleo-ecology

Anna Weiss, fossil hunting in Africa.

Anna Weiss, fossil hunting in Africa.

One of the most exciting aspects about paleontology is being able to see the changes the Earth has been through over the last 4.6 billion years and understanding that there is a relationship between climate, environment and life. There has been much recent work in both paleontology and ecology showing that understanding organisms’ response to past intervals of environmental change can inform modern conservation efforts.

(For two really excellent quick reviews, see the Conservation Paleobiology Workshop report and Looking forward through the past: identification of 50 priority research questions in palaeoecology.)

As a paleo-ecologist, I study ancient ecosystem functioning. Specifically, I am trying to understand how reef communities responded to and recovered from an episode of global warming known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which occurred about 56 million years ago.

The onset of the PETM occurred rapidly and lasted a (geologically) short period of time yet the effect on the planet was huge. This time period is associated with elevated CO2 levels, a 5-8°C increase in global temperature, ocean acidification, and reef collapse. The PETM is an especially interesting period of time to study for two reasons:

  1. The intensity and sudden onset of human-caused, or “anthropogenic,” CO2 emissions (primarily from our burning of fossil fuels) best mirror the rapid and strong pulse of CO2 dumped into the atmosphere naturally during the PETM. Although current emissions release is faster than during the PETM, overall projected CO2 release and temperature rise during these two separate periods are comparable in ecological magnitude.
  2. Reef systems face a crisis, but not extinction, during the PETM, contrary to their reaction to other periods of disturbance.

The issue of coral bleaching and extinction has been looming on the horizon for sometime now. Thankfully, recent research is showing that not all hope is lost: corals may be able to adapt and survive what is being called the Anthropocene, or the era of human-induced global change. This makes the fact that reefs were able to endure the PETM all the more interesting and relevant. Most paleo-ecological studies have used mass extinctions to model future ecological change, but I’m a little more optimistic.

I’ll be using both statistical methods and fossil data to better understand how and why corals survived this episode. Additionally, I hope to determine whether there was an ecological threshold before their decline and what the process of recovery looked like in the ancient oceanI already have promising preliminary results, and will head out to the fossil sites this summer to see these communities that have been preserved in time.

I will also work with modern reef ecologists to better understand reef ecosystem function and how paleo-ecological studies can be of most benefit to them. During my time in the Stony Brook University Sustainability Studies Program, I enjoyed discovering that the field of Sustainability Studies is extremely innovative and multidisciplinary. I’m excited to have found my niche at Stony Brook University, and it is one in which I can combine my love of geology with my passion for environmentalism.

Anna Weiss combined her love of geology with her passion for environmentalism to find her ideal career path.

Anna Weiss combined her love of geology with her passion for environmentalism to find her ideal career path.

By Anna Weiss
Sustainability Studies Program ’13
Anthropology Major; Paleoanthropology focus
Geology and Sustainability Studies Minors; Earth History focus
Today Anna is pursuing a Ph.D. in Paleontology at the University of Texas at Austin

The food fighter

America’s food system is broken, filled with foods that are making people and the environment sick, said an alumna of the Stony Brook University Sustainability Studies Program.

And she said that she’s determined to change all of that. Kathleen “Kat” Furey graduated with a BA in Environmental Humanities in 2012, focusing in the areas of food sovereignty, studies and politics. Since, she said she’s been working to ensure all Americans have access to healthy, sustainable food.

“My mission in life is to make the world a cleaner, healthier and happier place for generations to come, and that starts with food,” said Kat.

As a child, Kat grew up in a small farming community in Ohio. The kind of community, she said, “where you would go to one farmer for cheese and milk, another for your grains, another for fruit, another for vegetables, another for meat and so on.” She said that her mother would cook healthy meals for her family from the real, wholesome ingredients grown locally, right in their community.

Ohio, Kat's childhood home state.

Ohio, Kat’s childhood home state.

After leaving her Ohio hometown for a stint in the entertainment industry in California, Kat followed some “twists and turns” in her life, which led her to Long Island, New York. Remembering her farming roots and realizing the need for a food revolution in America, Kat decided to commit to follow her heart and receive a college education in a field that would enable her “to help both people and the planet.”

That’s when she discovered the Stony Brook University Sustainability Studies Program.

“It was truly the perfect fit for me,” said Kat. “I cannot believe where my education has taken me today.”

Kat is now education and media director of the Label GMOs California Grassroots (the National Labeling Coalition). In addition, she serves as the education and media director of GMO Free NY. Besides just GMOs, she works as senior media producer at Augustwolf Productions, a California-based media production group, helping to head up Energize Schools, a statewide campaign to bring clean energy to California schools.

And, as for current Stony Brook University Sustainability Studies Program students, Kat had this advice:

“Go for what you really freaking want and you can get it!”

Kat giving a Earth Day 2013 lecture in Grand Central Terminal.

Kat giving a Earth Day 2013 lecture in Grand Central Terminal.

An interview with Kat Furey
Sustainability Studies Program ’12
Environmental Humanities Major