Forrest Gump famously compared life to a box of chocolates (“You never know what you’re gonna get.”) As she works towards her master of science in resilient and sustainable communities at GMC, Erin Willett likens her education to box of crayons.
“The program has really sharpened a lot of my skills, and added a whole lot of new colors and tools that enable me to accomplish my goal of changing the world. I feel empowered by this program.”
Erin is an international sustainability consultant based near Geneva, Switzerland. She works with businesses and communities to find local, sustainable solutions to their energy and agricultural problems, while making them more resilient and adaptive to change.
She grew up in Boston and earned dual political science and anthropology degrees. After a stint in the pharmaceutical industry she founded “Smaht Fahm” in Boston, and then moved operations to Ohio, an enterprise that became a nine-year experiment in sustainable agriculture.
Her eating habits as a child were pretty mainstream America. “I was a kid that grew up on boxed mac and cheese and canned beans and I liked it. My family grew up on processed food because we didn’t know any better.”
The more she learned about farming, the more firmly committed she became to raising local, sustainable food. It was a deep dive: she raised chickens for eggs and meat, raised honeybees to make chemical-free wildflower honey, and learned how to make her own bread, cheese, yogurt and butter. She raised alpacas for homemade fiber and learned to process the fiber herself—carding, dyeing, spinning and plying yarn. Friends and neighbors sought her out to learn about her methods and she began teaching informal sustainability courses. She discovered she was a natural educator. She also found herself on a “sustainability slope” that she couldn’t get off.
“I never meant it to go this far but I’ve never been this fulfilled,” she said. “I started out in the MSFS program at GMC—then I became intrigued by the leadership emphasis in the new MRSC program.”
Now she’s on track to become the first graduate of the program this May. Her capstone project on thorium energy ties in neatly with some of her current energy consulting work.
Erin explains that thorium energy is much safer than traditional uranium-based nuclear energy. Thorium doesn’t produce high levels of radioactive waste, cannot be weaponized, has much safer reactor designs and is more four times more abundant than uranium. In a rapidly changing world faced with climate change, she believes that thorium can help provide stable base load energy for cities as a safe complement to other renewable forms of energy. For developing nations, thorium energy can provide the much-needed beginnings of sustainability and ability to meet basic human needs.
“The former director of India’s nuclear program said rural area solar is a great solution in his country, but for rapidly growing cities they’re going to need scalable nuclear reactors or coal fired plants,” she said. “For my thesis I’m building a strategic plan to create social movement around thorium as an alternative.”