Public Relations Senior is a Sustainability Star

Rachel CorryTallahassee native and FSU senior, Rachel Corry, was recently recognized by the University for her inspiring mission to make her community a more sustainable place. Her interest in sustainability began after a spring break trip to a local farm in West Jefferson, NC. Ever since then, Rachel has been using opportunities within CCI’s Public Relations major to further her research on this topic. She was awarded an IDEA Grant earlier this summer which will fund her research through Fall 2020.

CCI caught up with Rachel who spoke a little more about her research. Check out the interview below:

1) Can you talk a little more about your spring break trip and how that piqued your interest in this topic?

I am committed to making my Tallahassee community a healthier and happier place to live. Enacting sustainability is key to community well-being, so I participate in involvements that emphasize environmental care. My participation in two FSU Alternative Breaks trips to Woodland Harvest Mountain Farm made me realize sustainability can only be achieved when community support exists. After my first volunteer experience at the farm, I led the trip to Woodland Harvest the following year. My group and I applied our collective experiences on the farm to create positive healthy solutions for social issues in Woodland Harvest and our Tallahassee community.

Before going on the first trip to Woodland Harvest, I followed basic guidelines like recycling and turning off lights when leaving a room. I grew up being told these were the right things, but I did not understand why they mattered. I was never bothered if I forgot to recycle, saw trash on the ground, or left the water running. At Woodland Harvest, I stopped using all technology and learned about a sustainable way of life that was new to me. I want to instill in others a desire to protect the Earth just as Woodland Harvest instilled in me.

2) Can you walk us through your research project and what the three different stages were like?

For my Honors thesis, I am currently working with Dr. Patrick Merle to conduct a study on existing consumer perceptions toward sustainability and determine the most efficient communication methods for local organic farms to improve public support. I was honored to receive an FSU IDEA Grant to begin my research this summer and through the fall. I will conduct interviews with local organic farms in Florida and throughout the Southeast about their outreach strategies. These interviews are necessary to solidify an understanding of organic farmers’ collaboration with their surrounding communities. In Fall 2020, through an online survey, I will examine current consumer views on sustainability and organic agriculture. An online experimental survey will then compare communicative approaches farmers utilize and their public reception.

3) What is your ultimate goal with this research?

My ongoing IDEA Grant project and Honors in the Major thesis will have a positive impact in the FSU, Tallahassee, and Southeastern communities. My main research goal is to help small local organic farms by discovering the strategies they can implement to broaden their consumer support base. It will also present relevant findings on consumer awareness and understanding of sustainability as it relates to organic agriculture. There is a fundamental need for new knowledge in this area due to insufficient existing research connecting communication and sustainable farming.

4) How has this research impacted you and your view on sustainability?

My understanding of sustainability is always evolving; I challenge myself to think about small ways I can practice sustainability daily. This project provides a consistent space for me to learn about the environmental and health impacts of agriculture. Although my project is in the early stages of interviewing local organic farms in the Southeast, I have already received valuable insight from farmers in Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee. It is empowering to directly engage with these hard-working individuals who provide organic fresh food for their communities. My interview process is reflective of a step that is needed in our society: consistent exchange of ideas on successful organic farming methods and more widespread recognition that our national food system is in dire need of transformation.

5) What is next for you/your research?

I want to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Georgia’s Interpersonal and Health Communication program. This specialized program meets my interest in applying health and environmental communication to societal improvement. The non-thesis track option will train me for a career in the public communication sector, including research and management positions. My current research project is a key step for preparing me in pursuing future studies related to the interrelation between the environment and health. My career goal is to be an account manager for Edelman, an independent global communications firm specializing in the healthcare and environmental sectors. As an account manager, I would address client needs, plan campaign operations, and partner with specialty groups for exceptional client results. I want to join Edelman’s Corporate Social Responsibility program design which combines strategic communication with social awareness.

6) What does this recognition from the University mean to you?

The recognition from FSU that I have received is meaningful and humbling to me. I do not seek attention for personal gain, but am thrilled that my project is considered worthy of recognition. I think the topic of sustainability and organic agriculture needs to become more widely discussed and collaborative on a public level, so it is encouraging to see initial steps toward that goal in my research experience. The recognition also attests to the incredible impact of the FSU Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement (CRE) and the Office of National Fellowships (ONF). In developing my project, I was thankful for the resources and encouragement I received from David Montez at the CRE, as well as from Director of the ONF, Craig Filar, and Associate Director, Joshua Stanek.

I would not be where I am without the people who have guided me to approach my education with ambition and confidence. I am thankful for the amazing mentors that have been crucial to my personal and academic development, especially my project supervisor, Dr. Merle, and my KCCI communications internship supervisor, Betsy Couch. They are constantly helping me to think creatively, tackle challenges with the intent to grow from them, and apply academic knowledge to real-world situations. One of the many things that I admire about both Dr. Merle and Betsy is their commitment to using their expertise to benefit others. They are consistently applying their work toward improving our community and collaborating with others to advance their respective fields. I think every student needs a supportive professor like Dr. Merle, who trained me in three PR campaign management classes and urged me to pursue my passion via this research project. I am confident my project will be a success because I trust his guidance; he taught me the research skills and data analysis procedures that I am now applying.

7) Is there anything else you would like to share with us about the project?

I am excited to continue this project and gain knowledge about organic agriculture that I can share with others. It has always been a goal of mine to complete an Honors in the Major thesis, so seeing my thesis start to take shape is rewarding. It is important to me that my research is beneficial to small farmers and helps them to implement the most effective communication strategies toward consumers.