How Emma Vos expanded her worldview and became a double SIT student

May 3rd, 2022   |   International Honors Program, SIT Graduate Institute, SIT Study Abroad

A young woman with blonde hair in a gray knit hat and black parka.
IHP alumna Emma Vos is completing an SIT MA in Climate Change & Global Sustainability.

In true SIT spirit, Emma Vos is broadening her horizons. She completed SIT’s International Honors Program (IHP) in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2018, an interdisciplinary program that takes students to four continents to compare development, social change, and management. As Vos began to expand her understanding of global systems and their shortcomings, she built a community of like-minded peers and an academic support system that led her to pursue her MA in Climate Change and Global Sustainability at SIT Graduate Institute.

We caught up with her in the Galapagos Islands to learn how her studies are shaping her personally, academically, and professionally.

What made you pursue the IHP Social Innovation program, and what was your experience like?

As an undergrad, I had always found it quite challenging to commit to a specific discipline of study, so much so that my undergraduate degree ended up being an accumulation of credits from four different institutions. Once I had finally committed to a degree in global studies, the IHP Social Innovation curriculum arrived as the ideal marriage of themes and discourse to concretize links between the local and global. I began mapping myriad global system failings, their manifestations, and diverse responses to them. In many ways, IHP presented the type of interdisciplinarity study I always sought in an undergraduate program.

What was a significant lesson or experience you took away during your time in the program?

The program took our cohort to San Francisco, Kampala, New Delhi, and Sao Paulo. Being able to start drawing connections between such diverse places, each with nuanced sociopolitical realities, even back then, became a core underpinning of my future thinking and work. More specifically, IHP stressed the importance of building dialogue and projects between international communities and contexts. This lesson has become a lasting source of inspiration for me and the work I pursue.

After completing that program, you decided to pursue your master’s degree in Climate Change and Global Sustainability with SIT. What made you want to study these fields?

I am lucky to say that many of my closest friendships today are from my IHP program. Having a supportive community of individuals who are critical of the spaces they spend time in and are unafraid to try something new has been central to my confidence in prioritizing new learning journeys. I think many who pursue a program like IHP have an itch for continuous questioning while they are surrounded by like-minded, supportive, and loving individuals. This drives many to embark on new adventures, such as this master’s.

Understanding the climate crisis as a social justice issue with intersections between human rights and design is vital in driving my ambitions while also solidifying my knowledge base.

In relation to climate change, IHP concretized for me the symptoms of a broken system. My work highlighted just how significant a role the current climate crisis plays in exacerbating a global web of challenges. Understanding the climate crisis as a social justice issue with intersections between human rights and design is vital in driving my ambitions while also solidifying my knowledge base.

Several alpacas and person in a field with a building and snow-capped mountain in the background.
Emma Vos visits with alpacas in Ecuador.

How would you describe your experience so far in your graduate program? Is there a particular project you’re working on that you’re excited about?

This graduate program has contributed to one of the most enriching and grounding years for me. I have felt incredibly challenged and supported throughout, and I have been given the liberty to explore so many of my varying interests. I recently completed a research paper on sites of eco-spiritual acculturation in Ecuador and how this may present a paradox in the realms of global environmentalism.

This graduate program has contributed to one of the most enriching and grounding years for me. I have felt incredibly challenged and supported throughout, and I have been given the liberty to explore so many of my varying interests.

I explored the history and politics of American missionary presence in Ecuador and its dominant points of tension with local eco-spiritual ideologies. I analyzed interaction points between exported religiosity, local conceptions of nature, and eco-spiritual practice. I argued that iterations of eco-spirituality are increasingly found in the public domain and succumb to pressures of hegemony, widely problematizing the notion of global environmentalism.

Now that you’re pursuing your master’s with SIT, you hold a unique distinction of being a double SIT student. What is it about SIT that has made you want to pursue two programs, and how was the transition from undergraduate to graduate with SIT?

With my first experience with SIT, I quickly learned that programs such as IHP aren’t designed to function exclusively within an academic arena. Immersive learning that allows for multifaceted development and emphasizes growth beyond purely academic metrics quickly became the only way I could envision myself re-entering higher education. The transition to graduate school with SIT felt incredibly intuitive. The supporting infrastructure that I relied on during my undergraduate experience felt strongly in place still, and academically, there was room for increased rigor and ownership over my work.

Overall, has your time in these programs influenced your academic or career path?

Absolutely! Familiarizing myself with spaces and communities concerned with similar themes through SIT programs has felt like a continuous exercise in expanding my imagination of what is possible within social justice work. It is an immense privilege to draw from so many diverse perspectives and approaches and bridge these to localities close to home. More recently, exposure to various forms of work that aim to address the implications of the climate crisis has felt incredibly legitimizing. When commonly engaging in critical thinking during these programs, it is easy to experience ‘paralysis by analysis.’ The proposal of any form of solution-building can be put under a microscope and critiqued. Having more case studies to draw from that are aware of their limitations and know where and how they can make a difference has been immeasurably beneficial. 

The transition to graduate school with SIT felt incredibly intuitive. The supporting infrastructure that I relied on during my undergraduate experience felt strongly in place still, and academically, there was room for increased rigor and ownership over my work.

What’s next for you?

We are currently in the Galapagos on the very last leg of our adventures in Ecuador. Throughout most of this master’s program, I have tried to approach critical themes through a lens that sits at the intersection of environmental pedagogy and design. In the coming months, I will be completing a practicum in New Zealand focused on what it takes to build environmental education in a just and open manner. Questioning the key tenets of environmental education feels like a vital exercise in developing the future of learning and building the capacity to deal with the complex crises of the present and future.