Preparing to Make a Difference

caryn sennett

Caryn Sennett ’15

Whether she’s harvesting a bounty of organic tomatoes, taking water samples from Lake Erie, tagging turtles, investigating the flammability of household furniture or teaching local schoolchildren about healthy eating habits, Caryn Sennett ’15 is intent on helping to make the world a safer, healthier place. Learn about the professors, classes and experiences that have molded her, her travels abroad, her outdoorsy internships and community research, and the language class that helped inspire her to pursue a master’s in public health.


Environmental studies and Spanish.

Clubs and organizations:

Norman M. Eberly Multilingual Writing Center (peer tutor in the English Center and Spanish tutor in the MWC), President’s Commission on Environmental Sustainability, Sustainable Investment Group and Sustainability Coalition and College Farm (student farmer and SEED program coordinator).


John Dickinson Scholarship, Baird Sustainability Fellow, Joanne J. Trow Scholarship, Dorothy Anderson Fellowship, Pennsylvania Truman Fellowship Finalist and Alpha Lambda Delta, Sigma Delta Pi and Phi Beta Kappa honor societies.

Favorite book:

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Favorite movies:

Pride & Prejudice and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

On choosing Dickinson:

I originally heard about Dickinson because my parents met while attending the Penn State Dickinson School of Law [also located in Carlisle, Pa.], and they had really enjoyed their time in Carlisle. I was attracted to Dickinson because it was small, promised to provide many opportunities for class discussion and had an interdisciplinary approach. I was excited to focus on my interests without losing the perspective gained from understanding diverse fields. Plus, I was intrigued by the College Farm and eager to learn more. Upon visiting the school on an accepted students’ day, I remember feeling like Dickinson was the place for me. I could picture myself walking across the academic quad or sitting by the big windows in the library. Four years later, I know it was the right choice.

Favorite place(s) on campus:

The Treehouse and the Waidner-Spahr Library.

Favorite Dining Hall food:

Tomatoes from the Dickinson College Farm.

About sharing what I learned at the farm:

Working as a student farmer at the Dickinson College Farm has changed my outlook on the food that I eat and the land beneath my feet and SEED—short for Sustainable Earth Education—has given me the opportunity to share some of the lessons that I have learned with local youth, 5-12. This is my third semester as the student coordinator for SEED, and I have enjoyed every minute of the experience. The classes focus on interactive learning and aim to allow the students to engage with the daily activities of the farm, be it gathering eggs from the laying hens’ house, learning about the compost system, or visiting the cows after a lesson on ruminant digestion. I believe this kind of experiential learning builds confidence and creates curiosity in the surrounding world—plus, it can be so much fun!

Favorite professors:

[Assistant] Professor [of Spanish] Hector Reyes-Zaga has taught me that studying literature, be it novels, testimonials, or memoirs, can be essential to understanding history, because these works allow you to hear multiple perspectives of the same story. The first class that I ever took in the environmental-studies department was with [Assistant] Professor [of Environmental Studies] Greg Howard, and he has been my advisor ever since. He was the professor who first got me thinking about environmental health and various exposures, from the flame retardants in our padded desk chairs to the particulate matter in the air that we breathe.

Favorite classes:

My Environmental Policy class allowed me to see firsthand how environmental policies are applied to industrial operations and to hear the industry’s perspective. Each week, our class went on a field trip to a local factory or environmental agency to learn about how they were complying with environmental regulations. We visited an incinerator, a coal-fired power plant, a concentrated animal feeding operation and a doughnut factory. While touring each site, we were able to ask industry representatives questions and also to see technologies that we had discussed in class.

Spanish for the Health Professions was my first service-learning course, and I loved taking my knowledge of Spanish and the new medical vocabulary that I had learned and applying it to a real-life situation. Every week my classmates and I interpreted for migrant farm workers during their visits to a medical clinic. This course also gave me insight into the health problems and cultural barriers that migrant farm workers must face. It sparked my interest in addressing environmental exposures and disease within communities with limited access to basic amenities like health care or public transportation.

Hobby/side talent:

I really enjoy watercolor painting, and I am an avid reader. During summer vacation, I read as much as I can, sometimes multiple books in one week if I have the time.

On studying abroad:

I spent the spring semester of my junior year in Ecuador and Argentina through the Dickinson in South America program. I relished the opportunity to travel through South America, visiting many places that I had only ever heard about: the Amazon, Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires and many more. However, the true highlight of my experience was speaking Spanish every day and getting to know two wonderful host families.

If I could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, it would be …

my grandmothers, Pauline Sennett and Frances Armezzani.

About my internships:

I was one of the water-quality interns at Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pa., two summers in a row. Every day I started my morning waist-deep in Lake Erie taking water samples. After running the samples at the local health department and counting E. coli colonies, the rest of the day was almost always spent outside in the park. Some afternoons, small teams of interns managed invasive plants throughout the park. Other days, we assisted researchers with their projects (from tagging turtles to setting beetle traps); swam from breaker to breaker in the lake, cleaning off debris; or monitored migratory birds. I was constantly learning something new about the ecosystem from park managers and from visiting ornithologists and ecologists. These experiences confirmed that getting out into the field and applying concepts from the classroom to reality is the most valuable means of truly understanding.

Biggest influence:

My family. My parents have taught me many valuable lessons and have been incredibly supportive of me.

About my research:

I am currently doing independent research on the relationship between flame retardants in household furniture and socioeconomic status. The goal of my study is to understand whether regulatory chemical phase-outs are effective methods of equitably reducing exposure to potentially harmful toxicants and whether exposure to chemical flame retardants is an environmental equity issue.

Working with the local community was an essential aspect of this project, as I began by contacting many individuals and families in Carlisle and in my hometown to ask them about sampling the foam in their household furniture. Then, with their permission, I took small samples [and tested them]. I was overwhelmed by their generosity and willingness to participate in the study.

Post-Dickinson plans:

I will be attending graduate school at Boston University, pursuing a master of public health in environmental health science. I am excited about the next chapter of my education, and I am eager to learn how to identify harmful environmental agents, prevent unnecessary environmental exposures, improve community access to health services and educational resources and empower communities to shape their local environmental health policies.

Learn more

Published May 11, 2015