Sowing the Seeds of Social Activism – One Intern at a Time

Encouraging social awareness throughout the Scripps community has always been a key part of the overall Scripps experience. Megan (Thompson) Westgate, ’02, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, is continuing that tradition by bringing Scripps women into the organization as interns and staff.

The Upland, California-based Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization, created by leaders representing all sectors of the organic and natural products industry in the U.S. and Canada. It offers consumers a consistent non-GMO choice for organic and natural products that are produced without genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technologies.

With the help of technical consultants FoodChain Global Advisors, and fueled by the passion of a dynamic array of industry leaders, the Non-GMO Project has successfully created a collaborative non-GMO verification program that began enrolling products in the fall of 2008. Working at every level of the supply chain, all the way back to the seeds, the Project’s role is to inspire and ensure viable non-GMO alternatives.

Leading a Sustainable Life

As one of the organization’s founding board members, Westgate recalls her introduction to health and pure foods. “While at Scripps, I majored in art and minored in dance. My senior thesis, titled ‘Conscious Eating Tableware,’ was a ceramics piece advocating thoughtful food choices, and reflected substantial study into the environmental and health impacts of pesticides and of over-consumption of animal products. I was also involved in several campus activist groups, and had the opportunity to participate in an activist training camp, where I first really learned about biotechnology.”

After graduating from Scripps, she took on managerial roles at Green’s Restaurant in San Francisco, the Heartwood Institute in Humboldt, CA, and Food Conspiracy Co-op in Tucson. “From there, I started working with other retailers on the Non-GMO Project, and in 2007 we incorporated as a non-profit.”

She notes that rather than focusing on the “dangers of GMO products,” the Project emphasizes the benefits of non-GMO products. “Our Website features a consumer-oriented portal where we offer plain-English explanations of GMOs and the Non-GMO Project. We also use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to reach wide audiences with basic news about the issue. Most importantly, we work closely with retailers across the U.S. and Canada to make sure that they understand the Project well, and are able to answer their shoppers’ questions.”

Engaging the Help of Scripps Students

Like many successful non-profits, the Non-GMO Project’s workload regularly exceeds its staff resources. So Westgate turned to Valinda Lee at Career Planning & Resources to see if there were student interns available to help. “I was excited about offering Scripps students the opportunity to learn valuable skills while putting energy into something meaningful to them,” she says. In the last year and a half, the Project has had six interns, all but one from the Claremont Colleges, and three of them from Scripps.

Currently, the Project’s only paid staff position, besides Westgate’s, is Outreach Coordinator Camille Frazier, ’09, who was a former intern. Frazier oversees the Project’s fundraising and outreach activities. Additionally, she works with the manufacturers who have enrolled products in the Product Verification Program and maintains the organization’s Website.

Halley Everall, ’10, serves as the Project’s Administrative Intern. She helps out with whatever tasks are the most pressing on a given day — which can range from writing blog posts and enrolling retailers in the Supporting Retailers Program, to contacting seed companies across the country. “Her commitment to the GMO issue, and enthusiasm for sustainability, especially regarding food, brings wonderful energy to the office,” notes Westgate.

A Collaborative Environment

Westgate appreciates the opportunity to work with women who embody the Scripps qualities of commitment to the greater good, determination and intelligence. “I can rely on Scripps students to get the job done and to do it well,” she says. “Scripps students are amazingly fast learners, so they understand the complexities of the organization and the issue. I can count of them to be good writers, which is important to a collaboration-oriented non-profit that uses social media extensively. Also, the characteristic confidence of Scripps students is extremely important during fundraisers and at tradeshows. The best part is probably how much fun we have. I credit that at least in part to the profound connection we have as women who have shared the Scripps experience, and the trust and joy that arises from that.”

For Frazier and Everall, the Non-GMO Project also offers them many benefits — now and in the future. Frazier plans to study anthropology in graduate school with an emphasis on food studies and sustainability; while Everall is writing her senior thesis on GMOs.

While Westgate and her husband recently moved to Bellingham, Washington, and she oversees operations from home, Frazier and Everall supervise activities at the Project’s headquarters at the corner of First Street and Claremont Boulevard, at the Co-op.

As the Non-GMO Project continues to flourish, Westgate looks forward to continuing to offer socially aware opportunities for Scripps students. “Safe, healthy food is my passion, and I am committed to overseeing the Non-GMO Project for as long as it takes to ensure North Americans’ right to choose clearly labeled and independently verified non-GMO food and products,” Westgate says. “We are excited to continue the Claremont connection and spend regular time in sunny Southern California!”