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Plumpy’nut is a peanut butter paste fortified with vitamins. Because it can reverse the ravages of malnutrition in as few as two weeks, Doctors Without Borders dubbed the lifesaving concoction "a revolution in nutritional affairs." Integrated marketing communications major Elizabeth Stoltz ’13 first read about Plumpy’nut in high school.
"I'd been disheartened about the tragic effects of childhood malnutrition in Africa and was stunned that such an easy solution existed," she said. "I wanted be part of that solution."
So she organized a 5K walk that raised $5,000 to support Plumpy’nut distribution in Ethiopia. Inspired by that success, Elizabeth established Food for Thought, a nonprofit that was initially dedicated to raising money for more Plumpy’nut deliveries. After doing summer relief work in Ethiopia, Elizabeth arrived at IC and founded a student chapter of Food for Thought. The college provided fertile ground for her organization.
"Being a Park scholar, I was surrounded by students who shared my commitment to improving the lives of others," says Elizabeth, referring to a scholarship program at IC that couples academic achievement with community service. "As a freshman, I was already implementing classroom lessons in marketing and public relations to make a social impact."
That impact has broadened.
"Every week, students pitch causes they feel Food for Thought can advance," she said. "Besides two local Plumpy’nut walks, which raised our total support to $20,000, Food for Thought has supported orphanages in Russia, Peru, and Nicaragua. We also organized a cupcake sale that raised $1,600, the cost of a one-year scholarship for a student at a school in India. Starting with five people on the executive board, Food for Thought now has a full house at rush nights."
Elizabeth’s relief efforts have garnered national recognition. As her junior year draws to a close, she is one of 162 American college students to be named a 2012 Newman Civic Fellow. Bestowed by Campus Compact, a coalition of college and university presidents, the award honors undergraduates who engage their fellow students in civic and social responsibilities.
Ironically, as word spreads about Elizabeth’s leadership ability, she feels it’s time, with her senior year approaching, to step down as president of Food for Thought and make way for younger leadership—the first transition, she hopes, of many.
"After I graduate, I’ll be looking at bigger PR firms in Washington, D.C., as good places to integrate relief work with public relations skills,” she said. “But wherever I go, Plumpy’nut and Food for Thought will be in my blood. In 15 years, I want to come back and be blown away by how far IC students have taken the organization."
>> More on this story: Student Organizations at IC
In high school, I considered myself a pretty good student. Most of my friends took the same classes I did and knew they wanted to be biomedical engineers, environmental scientists, or doctors someday. I was confident in my abilities and had plenty of ideas about my interests, but I wasn’t prepared at 18 to make what I thought was a huge choice. When I was looking for colleges, I wanted a school that acknowledged that it takes time and experience to make that decision. Ithaca College’s Exploratory Program offered me just that.
The Exploratory Program provided me with so many resources. I took a course specifically designed to help college students discover their passions. My faculty advisor, Elizabeth Bleicher, asked me focused questions to reveal potential majors that might suit both my personality and abilities.
In high school I enjoyed physics, and I knew coming in that I wanted to take a college-level course on the subject. Professor Bleicher referred me to Professor Michael “Bodhi” Rogers. His passion is infectious. After completing the introductory class, I realized that I loved physics. I like the logic involved in it. It’s not about memorization—it’s about problem-solving in real life. That intellectual challenge is exactly what I was looking for in my college experience.
The enthusiasm of the people in the physics department also really impressed me. They’re totally dedicated to using a teaching style based on the most current research about how students best learn. I had a class in the performance-based physics classroom—a collaborative learning environment where the professor is in the center with projectors all around, and students are seated in groups so that they can discuss questions before answering. It was one of the most powerful educational experiences I have ever had.
By talking to my faculty advisor and professors, I learned what I can do with a physics major. I can be anything from an engineer to a lawyer or teacher. Educators in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) are in demand, and teaching is something I’m definitely interested in. Physics majors score well on law school entrance tests, and I accepted a summer internship working in the legal department of a technologies corporation. The idea that I could major in a subject that was really important, had a great job outlook, and would still let me do a variety of different things down the road really appealed to me.
I also visited Career Services as part of my exploration, and they helped me discover ways my preferences could be matched with potential careers. That led me to realize that I could actually pursue multiple interests. Now, not only am I a physics major, but I am also a business administration minor.
The Exploratory Program was the reason I came to Ithaca College. Though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, I didn’t like calling myself “undecided” because I had decided that I wasn’t ready to choose a major yet. I wanted time to explore; I wanted guidance along the way—and that’s exactly what Ithaca gave me.
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