Certificate in Community-Based Environmental Management

Student Profile

Sara Overton

What is your motivation for completing the Community-Based Environmental Management (CBEM) Certificate program? 

Before coming to Duke, I worked with farmers at a county level.  The farming community I worked in continuously surprised me with their ideas and innovative thinking.  I also saw how these ideas were quickly dismissed by state and federal level bodies – bodies which lacked any incentive to nurture emerging ideas.  When I began my MEM, I took CBEM my first semester and had the realization that it embraced the methods I found to be the most effective in agricultural resource management and could realistically address my concerns with food access, farm labor rights, and farmland degradation.

What have been some of the most interesting courses or projects you have been involved in as part of the CBEM Certificate program (can include your MP and/or your summer internship)?

The courses taken for the CBEM Certificate are incredibly useful and diverse.  My interests are in face-to-face interactions for data gathering – interests I honed into professional abilities thorough courses like Randy Kramer’s Surveys and Meg McKean’s Collective Action.

My CBEM class included a client-based project, which is when I became connected with Transplanting Traditions Community Farm.  For CBEM I studied the organization, then for CBEM Practicum I conducted two focus groups and developed two surveys for the organization to use.  THEN, I had the opportunity to finalize/translate, implement, and assess the data from the surveys during my 2013 summer internship at TTC Farm.  My work with TTC Farm gave me considerable insight into non-profit operations, as well as the ability to work with an organization for an entire year.

Eric Hansen and myself are working with Benevolence Farm for our MP.  The project includes constructing a social network analysis based off of interviews.  I had done a simple SNA for CBEM and felt confident in my ability to create a more complex version through R software after studying them in Liz’s class.  Benevolence Farm’s mission is to empower women recently released from incarceration, another major lesson from CBEM.

What have been the three most valuable “lessons learned” about how to work with communities that you have taken away from the CBEM Certificate program?

  1. Go to Oaxaca, Mexico.  I sincerely regret missing this field course!!
  2. Gathering qualitative data from a community can be mentally and socially exhausting.  I learned the value of time management for planning your data collection.  Proper time management is essential for credible data gathering because you allot enough time and energy to fully interact with your community, while giving them necessary time to process what they are undertaking and respond in-kind.
  3. Communities come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are groups of people who have experienced an injustice.  Others want to preserve for the future.  I am a supporter of Elinor Ostrom’s framework that small group sizes can be collectively managed more easily than large communities.  The communities you encounter in CBEM Certificate courses are local groups from the Triangle area and their small size makes your work with them all the more effectual.  These groups are welcoming to Duke students and helped me become acquainted with my new NC home and action being taken within the community.

How has your participation in the CBEM Certificate program informed your decisions about the career path you would like to take after leaving the Nicholas School?

I am more confident that my career will bring about the change I seek because my capacity for facilitating such change has been enriched and conditioned.  I am more aware of what an individual can accomplish – both in a 40hr work week as well as a lifetime.  Frankly, I am excited about both.