Spotlight on Students: Stephanie Steinbrecher ’16 Is Saving the Earth through Storytelling

Stephanie Steinbrecher

For the past two summers, Stephanie Steinbrecher ’16 has interned with the Sierra Club, working out of its Bay Area and Washington, D.C. offices. We recently caught up with Stephanie to find out what she’s been up to and learn about some of the experiences and insights she brings back to Scripps this fall.

Scripps College: What inspired you to intern with the Sierra Club, and what have you been doing there this summer?

Stephanie Steinbrecher: This summer I interned for Sierra, the club’s magazine. Last summer, I worked with the media team in their national legislative office in Washington, D.C. I first learned about the Sierra Club in my high school American history class, reading about its founding by John Muir in 1892. Muir enjoyed Yosemite for its beauty and grace, but he also advocated politically for its protection. The club still embodies Muir’s spirit in its many environmental campaigns. I chose this organization because I share the values and goals it works for every day. The club sees our natural and social worlds as interlaced, and I love working for a place with that vision.

SC: What are the most important things people should know about the environment?

SS: I think when we hear “environment,” our minds jump to the dire effects of climate change in distant places, or maybe we picture John Muir rambling around the wilderness. But really, the environment isn’t as detached from the ways we live our daily lives as narratives told by politicians and the media often suggest. We need to consider how our choices affect the environment and each other—even when we can’t see the effects of our actions. The environment is not abstract; it is shaped by how we interact with it, tangibly or not, every day—it is a part of us. And so it needs to be part of our collective conscience. We should make its protection, which is really our protection, a moral imperative.

SC: What surprising thing did you take away from your internship that has contributed to your education, career, or activism?

SS: My editorial internship with Sierra has showed me the importance of telling human stories. I’ve struggled to understand what motivates people, or what moves people to act—not everyone treats wildlife conservation, environmental justice, or responsible energy acquisition as ethical priorities. Writing every day, interviewing, and working with experienced editors this summer, I realized that journalism presents a special opportunity to connect with people and to connect people with each other. Storytelling is a kind of education, and it’s an important way to get people to see things that they haven’t before. I am considering pursuing a career in journalism or possibly public policy. In addition to sharpened skills, I will take away the value of human connection in fostering change.

SC: How has your time at Scripps contributed to your passions for writing and the environment?

SS: I was the editor-in-chief of the Claremont Port Side, a 5C publication that introduced me to the world of in-depth, provocative magazine writing. I knew I wanted to major in English. My parents encouraged me to be an author, but that wasn’t my cup of tea. I like studying literature, learning about its singular ability to shape, and often critique, our cultural and intellectual landscapes. Much of what I’ve learned about my own writing and the English language comes from outstanding classes and faculty at Scripps.

Studying abroad with the School for Field Studies has fueled my passion for conservation. In Cambodia last spring, I met many people with perspectives vastly different from my own. I was challenged to confront complexities like globalization, economic and social obstacles barring effective policies, and the difficult realities many people face that hinder ecological progress. This is a dynamic time for Southeast Asia, and I’m lucky I got to live and learn in such a beautiful corner of the world.

SC: What advice do you have for Scripps students who are interested in pursuing summer internships?

SS: Continually seek out what’s meaningful and be informed about the opportunities and/or consequences. I value the experiences that were weird and exceptionally wonderful as much as those I struggled through and sometimes hated. I have sharpened my skills, beliefs, and goals as a result of all I have done to get where I am, and I don’t know how pursuing what matters can ever be a mistake.

SC: Why did you choose Scripps?

SS: I chose Scripps because the concept of interdisciplinary education appealed to me, especially as a high school student with only a vague sense of what I was good at or wanted to do. Being a student of the liberal arts is not easy. When I chose Scripps, I was really signing up for a four-year workout for my intellect and conscience, and this has been essential. My time in college has made me reconsider how I understand myself and how this world works. A liberal arts education leaves no option but to establish, reframe, and think around perspectives of every kind, time and again. Without these years of inquiry and study, I doubt I would be as secure in my abilities or certain of my convictions as I am today. I’m tremendously grateful for my education.


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