Editor’s Note — This Q&A is part of a weekly conversation series that is celebrating Pride Month on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Medium page. The series will feature Huskers who are making impacts on campus and look to maintain that momentum in future careers.
For this week of Pride Month 2022, we’re talking with Ally Barry, an environmental studies major from Lincoln. What started as a passion for nature in Barry’s childhood has turned into a major and future career. On and off-campus, they channel that passion for the environment and for accessibility to make an impact.
What originally got you interested in environmental studies?
Growing up in Nebraska, I remember digging for worms in the backyard, spending summers swimming in lakes, and running around the open fields of Pioneers Park. Throughout my life, there has been one constant: nature. I think it’s easy to dismiss the plains of Nebraska as corn fields, however, if we pick up a new perspective, those plains reflect a story of resistance and resilience. Nature has been my constant, but nature is constantly changing. The older I got, though, the more aware I was that our planet was in decline. The same scenes I had spent hours transfixed by were suddenly barren. While our planet is skilled at adaptation and evolution, it is in crisis.
I chose to pursue environmental studies because I (and each of us) have a front-row seat to witness environmental collapse and I refuse to believe that we are destined for disaster.
Last year, you received a stipend from UCARE. What was that experience like?
Academically, I have a vast range of interests from math to policy, so navigating what my skills and interests translate into after graduation is complex. After discussing some of my future plans with one of my professors, Ross Dixon, he offered me the opportunity to work on an earth systems modeling project. While we were studying precipitation changes in the Great Plains, we had decided the primary goal was to increase my familiarity with the research process. I spent that summer on literature reviews and lines of code and came out understanding that I was more concerned with contextualizing the science than constructing the models. With that knowledge, my professional goals have begun to clarify, and, this summer, I was able to find an internship with the Daugherty Water for Food Institute that I’ve loved so far.
You’re involved in a range of things on campus, from being a campus host to working for the Environmental Studies Program to ASUN. How have these involvements helped shape your college experience?
Being involved in college has given me the opportunity to pursue my interests and passions, but, most importantly, it introduced incredible people into my life. These folks have encouraged me to remain authentic, admit when I’m wrong, and slow down sometimes. Regardless of if we shared a class or dorm room, I’ve been growing into a better person because of the people here.
Talk a little about your passion for accessibility.
I believe that accessibility is equivalent to having an environment that reflects the existence of the people in it. Namely, I think about the relevance of queer representation in my life. Off campus, I am often one of the only openly queer individuals people know which can feel ostracizing. When people have only heard of the LGBTQ+ community as a theory, there can be a tendency to treat queer folks as a political project before accepting us as human beings which generated unsafe atmospheres. So when I think about what I want to do with my future, I have had to sit with myself and consider the context of reality. What I am always brought back to is the conclusion that my successes should not occur despite my identity, but because of it. That was a lesson I learned individually because I had no one to exemplify that for me. Consequently, I strive to live out accessibility by becoming the representation I needed growing up.
What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
As I’ve mentioned, my relationship with nature has had a primary influence on my life. Thus, guided by the belief that climate is personal, I hope to empower individuals to establish their connection with nature, identify themselves as part of the solution to climate change, and mobilize their communities toward a cleaner and more equitable future.
What or who inspires you?
When I reflect upon the millions of things that have shaped me as a person, I’m immediately drawn to the empowerment derived from being in nature. Watching ecosystems operate on their own microscales, but, ultimately, as a part of our collective environment reminds me of the importance each individual and community holds. Learning the ways our earth exhibits adaptation and resilience ground me in the very reason I’m involved in sustainability: the belief that we, as a human race, may be the driver of the climate crisis, but that does not exclude us from being part of the solution.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit how difficult it is to hold onto that message at times. However, that need for support is why we establish our communities. Initially, I gravitate toward the capacity of love, persistence, and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community throughout history and into today. In my personal network, though, it’s mentors like Hillary Mason along with my cousin, Erin, and her husband, Vish, who not only encourage me to live out my passions authentically but who exemplify that message themselves. Their leadership and care have facilitated so much of my growth over the past few years, and I am beyond grateful to be a part of each other’s lives.
What is your advice for other students looking to make an impact on campus?
Firstly, involve yourself in what interests you, not just what seems most practical or fitting for your resume. When you care deeply about your work, reaching out to instructors, joining clubs, and staying committed starts feeling more natural. Know, though, that it’s okay to move on from the pursuits that aren’t serving you anymore.
Secondly, take the time to understand and respect your boundaries (write them out too). Many times, I’ve lost touch with my personal needs for the sake of problem-solving, but the catch is that nothing gets solved if you’re not fully available to commit to it. Once I admitted that I had limitations and respected them, I was happier with myself and my capacity to lead and collaborate with others had only expanded.