An Intersection of Interests At W&L, Katherine Ingram '20 found a research interest—and a future profession—where environmental studies meets economics.
“I’m someone with a lot of different interests, but through the accumulation of all of these experiences, I would say I really found my voice and my purpose.”
~ Katherine Ingram ’20
Hometown: Huntsville, AL
Majors: Environmental Studies and Economics
Q: What factors led you to choose W&L?
I went to a K-12 school that really emphasized small classes and personal relationships between students and faculty. My school’s educational philosophy was similar to W&L’s with its focus on a broad-based liberal arts education, and W&L had many of the academic qualities I was looking for. It wasn’t really on my radar until my college counselor pointed out that it might be a good fit. When I visited campus during Johnson Weekend, what really set W&L apart for me was the quality and rigor of student discussion in the classes I shadowed. The biggest factor outside of this was my understanding of the unique opportunities for Johnson Scholars, from early Study Abroad options to funding for summer experiences, that would enable me to make the most of my time at W&L.
Q: Why did you choose to major in environmental studies and economics?
As a freshman, I thought I wanted to go into the environmental policy profession after getting early exposure through my mom’s work at NASA. I really appreciated how the major at W&L is environmental studies rather than environmental science, because the curriculum emphasizes an interdisciplinary education necessary to address complex environmental problems rather than a narrow specialization. As part of the major requirements, I had to take introductory Microeconomics and Macroeconomics, which I was fully dreading. Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed them. Studying development and environmental economics helped illuminate the rational basis and incentive structures driving everyday negative environmental behaviors. These two majors have been so complementary, and I think the pairing allows me to take a more balanced approach and give fair consideration to issues where the environmental and economic rationales may be in tension.
Q: What has been your favorite course at W&L? Why?
It’s so hard to choose just one! My favorite non-major class was probably Applied Piano, which I took with Professor Bill McCorkle one Spring Term. It was an extremely condensed course compared to the Fall and Winter Term courses. Completing the required number of practice hours in such a short time after having been pretty inconsistent with piano during college really renewed my passion for the instrument and helped me get past a plateau in my skill development. I appreciate that W&L’s academic curriculum allows students to continue to feed the range of their passions without having to compromise.
In talking to my friends, I think the experiential and PE credits are so appreciated because they force us to carve out the space and time for things we care about but tend to push aside in the midst of a heavy course load. Getting credit is just an added bonus! My favorite non-major class was probably Environmental Valuation with Professor Jim Kahn. Collecting my own data and applying the econometric models firsthand to place a value on non-market goods (for example, the Amazon rainforest or an endangered species) revealed just how challenging this process was, taking it out of the realm of abstraction.
Q: Tell us about your experience in a year-long exchange program at Oxford University’s Mansfield College.
Spending my junior year at Oxford’s Mansfield College was a life-changing experience for me. The tutorial system was an entirely different learning environment, and it taught me to be much more adaptable and independent. The foundation of the weekly tutorial essay drastically improved my critical thinking and argumentation skills, which I know I will be able to take with me wherever I go.
Culturally, it was the first significant amount of time I’d spent out of the country. Through this program, I lived and learned among students from so many different backgrounds and got the chance to really immerse myself in British culture at an institution with such a rich history. I feel so fortunate that Oxford students willingly embraced the visiting students. The greatest benefit of studying abroad in Mansfield’s year-long program is that you really have the time to build meaningful relationships, develop cultural fluency, and participate in the Oxford traditions—like May Morning—that make you feel like part of the community.
Q: How did your time as a summer research scholar in accounting impact your career plans?
Working with Professor Megan Hess and Professor Colin Reid as a data coder for a project focused on firms’ sustainability performance and goal-setting, I made a lot of connections between my coursework in environmental studies, economics, and business, and began to uncover where my interest was in these linkages. The relationship between firm sustainability and investment decision-making became a topic I continuously explored as a member of Gen Dev and in my capstone project. After graduate school, I want to start in development finance with the long-term goal of working in private asset management that focuses on environmental, social, governance (ESG) investment. My early experience as a research scholar definitely spurred my academic interest in this area, even though at the time I had little idea of the growing career opportunities in the field.
Q: What extracurricular activities have you been involved in, and how has that enriched your W&L experience?
I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a variety of organizations at W&L in student governance, the arts and service. I’m someone with a lot of different interests, but through the accumulation of all of these experiences, I would say I really found my voice and my purpose. Being in University Singers, I built a strong sense of community on campus and learned so much about artistic cooperation and collaboration that can be applied to any team endeavor. As a Hearing Advisor, I gained confidence in myself as a public speaker and developed an understanding of my personal communication style that has been invaluable.
My leadership in Gen Dev and Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the former a local social entrepreneurship endeavor and the latter a large, nationwide environmental organization, made me much more comfortable with ambiguity and the reality of incremental progress when it comes to making lasting, meaningful change. Gen Dev in particular (where we began developing an impact investing practicum this year) set me on my current career path in sustainable development and finance, which I will be pursuing further at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in the fall.
Q: Has anyone on campus served as a mentor to you?
My advisor, Kim Hodge, and Professor Leah Green, both environmental studies faculty, were extremely supportive throughout my time at W&L. There is really no prescribed path for students with an environmental studies background, and they helped me through this daunting task. They were also great role models for me in what it means to live a purposeful life, as they get to do what they love daily and it comes across so clearly. Additionally, Professor Jim Kahn’s expertise as an environmental economist was not only instrumental as I worked on my capstone project, but was so helpful as I started navigating the world of graduate school and professional opportunities in the discipline.
More about Katherine
Q: What is your personal motto?
I’m still searching for one!
Q: Favorite place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
Blue Sky. I get the Blue Sky with chipotle mayo and black bean salad. (Their brownies are a must!)
Q: What film or book do you recommend to everyone?
“Range” by David Epstein
Q: Most amazing place you’ve been?
Lagos, Portugal. It was right on the beach and the food was so fresh and amazing.
Q: Favorite W&L memory so far?
Every choir tour that I’ve been lucky to go on with University Singers.
Q: Favorite W&L event?
Q: What is something nobody would guess about you?
I love the ballet. I got to see Misty Copeland perform “Romeo and Juliet” in 2016 and it was fantastic! Last December, I dragged my friend to see “The Nutcracker” performed by Denmark’s national ballet when we were studying abroad because I grew up dancing in it every year.
Q: Do you have any post-grad plans yet?
I’ll be attending Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, completing a Master of Arts program in International Economics and Energy, Resources, and the Environment.