JWU News

It’s All About the Journey: A Student’s Quest for Sustainability

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College is a significant journey. It’s a time for change, growth, new experiences and even a little self-realization. This has certainly been true for Ruth Solomon ’19. The Student Activists Supporting Sustainability (SASS) club president and recent Centennial Woman of the Year winner has had an interesting journey before, during and hopefully after her time at JWU.

At a May ribbon-cutting ceremony for new raised plant beds created by the Club of Culinary Excellence (CCE), Cooking Asia and SASS,  Solomon was all smiles as she mingled with her fellow classmates for one of the final times before graduating. Later, sitting down next to the new plants she had just set in the soil, Solomon reflected on her college experience and what has led her to this point, revealing that not long ago she wouldn’t have pictured herself where she is now.

I think I had a pretty typical experience of freaking out during my junior and senior year of high school.”

“I think I had a pretty typical experience of freaking out during my junior and senior year of high school about what to do with my life and what my passion was,” she said with a laugh. Early on, she knew she was interested in the food industry, but a school trip to a soup kitchen opened her eyes to the importance of food in and of itself — and led her to thinking about how she could help. Spending part of her childhood in New York City, she saw many homeless people in need.

“I knew I loved food and was getting more involved in the food scene, so that’s when I decided I really wanted to set up a food truck for the homeless, and that became my goal,” she said.

TOP PHOTO: RUTH SOLOMON ’19 (SECOND FROM LEFT) AND MEMBERS OF SASS, CCE AND COOKING ASIA  CUT THE RIBBON TO CELEBRATE THEIR PLANT BEDS.
BELOW: SOLOMON PLANTS VEGETABLES IN THE NEW BEDS.

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Solomon began looking into her options for culinary schools. In talking with a family friend, she learned more about JWU and everything it could offer.

“I liked the idea that I could get a business degree and a culinary degree, too, if I wanted,” she said. However, after high school, she deferred from JWU for two years.

“I didn’t know if they had all the wellness and sustainability courses that I was interested in,” she admitted. “It turns out they do, and they are continuing to grow them even more.”

Still, she felt it was a good time to take a break from school and try something different. She began work-exchanging through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which connects volunteers with a host farm where they can stay while helping harvest crops.

This took her around the world, from goat and vegetable farms in Israel, to learning gardens in the Netherlands. She also spent some time in Sicily on two different farms, harvesting olives, walnuts, oranges, lemons and avocados.

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“It gave me a wider range of how people understand their food and culture, and the organic and seasonal pieces of that,” Solomon said of the experience.

Returning home, it was time to head back to school. During her first weeks at JWU, Solomon found SASS and decided to join. She earned an A.S. in Culinary Arts through the College of Culinary Arts and then continued on to earn a B.A. in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management through the College of Hospitality Management.

JWU has been such a good education because there’s so much variation.

“I definitely feel inspired by some of the classes I took. Overall, JWU has been such a good education because there’s so much variation,” she said. "There are so many amazing professors and teachers here.”

And while her academic track took her from Culinary Arts and into Food Service Management, she shared that her favorite teacher and mentor is Christine Stamm, a professor in the College of Arts & Sciences. Solomon first met Stamm during her sophomore year, while taking her Culture & Food course.

Early in her senior year, Solomon also took Stamm’s Global Food Security course, which included fulfilling an internship for the term.

“We learned about the issues first and then volunteered 40 hours per term for a local nonprofit that was dealing with some kind of food insecurity,” Solomon said.

ruth and cassidy-minSOLOMON (RIGHT) AND CASSIDY LANZA ’19 WASH THEIR HANDS AFTER PLANTING VEGETABLES IN THE NEW PLANT BEDS.

Solomon completed her internship with Hope’s Harvest RI, a gleaning initiative for food rescue and recovery. Hope’s Harvest partners with local farms to help gather leftover crops that farmers don’t have use for after a harvest. The food is then donated to local food banks and kitchens.

Once I did that internship, it really changed my perspective on what I wanted to do.

“Leading up to that internship, I had started realizing that there’s a lot of waste, particularly with food,” said Solomon. “Once I did that internship, it really changed my perspective on what I wanted to do with food, because you can’t work with food without waste.”

This revelation was not entirely a surprise. Her attention had already long been turned from food production to waste prevention and sustainability, thanks to her work with SASS and the courses she had been attracted to in the Food Service Management program. She also represented JWU several times at the annual Students for Zero Waste Conference, a national conference that brings together college students to discuss and learn more about sustainability and environmental justice efforts. It was at that conference where she first found her mantra: Waste is just resources in the wrong place.

“That’s how I live my life,” she said. “I do what I can and try to inspire people around me. Everyone is at a different level of knowledge about sustainability, and that’s okay. We don’t all have to be perfect, we just all have to do something.”

Though she’s humble about the work she’s accomplished, Solomon admitted it was nice to receive some recognition from JWU at its annual Student Leadership Awards ceremony as the Centennial Women of the Year Award winner.

“To have the award presented, especially by Providence Campus president Marie Bernardo-Sousa, LP.D., '92, was so amazing. Taking a step back and realizing that there are so many eco-conscious people getting involved was incredible.”

ruth award -minSOLOMON AND PRESIDENT MARIE BERNARDO-SOUSA, LP.D., '92 AT THE SLA CEREMONY.

Solomon was nominated for the award by Matt Fannon, the manager of the JWU Energy Conservation Office (ECO) and advisor for SASS. For Fannon, the decision to nominate her was an easy one.

“She’s put in a ton of great work over the past four years and she’s led the student charge for sustainability on campus,” Fannon said. “When I looked at the award’s description, it made a lot of sense to nominate her.”

Fannon has also enjoyed the opportunity to watch Solomon transform during her time at JWU.

“As a first-year student, she had the enthusiasm, and she still has that now, but it’s different,” he said. “There’s more confidence there and she’s learned a lot. It went from her being interested in sustainability and wanting to lead the charge, but not knowing how, to being someone who is confident and knows exactly who to talk to and how to get things done. I just hope she will continue to do what she loves every day.”

That seems to be Solomon’s plan, as she will stay in Rhode Island to continue working with Hope’s Harvest RI and other organizations like Farm Fresh RI. She’ll be taking the skills she’s learned at JWU with her as she continues her journey to make an impact in the sustainability field.

“I don’t want any job just to pay the bills,” Solomon said. “I want to do things that will improve our future, our community and our planet.”

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Topics: Sustainability Food Service Management