Curb Scholar Spotlight: Sydney Juda
Curb Scholar, Sydney Juda, is invested in realizing a sustainable future. Curb’s creative writing fellow, Joshua Moore, sat down with Sydney to learn more about her passion for design, environmental work and sustainability in fashion.
J: What’s one unexpected or interesting fact about you that most people don’t know?
S: A fact that most people don’t know? I feel it’s kind of like what my Curb thing is. I did costume designing in high school and I am on scholarship here at Vanderbilt because I know how to sew.
J: There are some natural links between fashion and the environment especially in terms of pollution. Did that play a role at all in how you chose your major?
S: I am a chemical engineering because I liked to design. I was big chemistry nerd in high school, on the chemistry team and all that. But from there I decided I wanted to do engineering because I was able to meld my love of designing clothes to a love of chemistry. And then when I was getting into chemical engineering, I found out that fashion is actually the second most polluting industry in the entire world. It’s only second to oil, which I feel like is shocking to most people. But if you think about the amount of dyes that are polluted, the fast fashion industry as a whole, and all the toxins that are produced in clothing that just don’t degrade, it really connects the two interests. So from there, I got super interested in environmental sustainability and how you can treat waters that are used to in the clothing manufacturing process to be more sustainable.
J: What’s the coolest class you’ve taken around those topics?
S: I took a climate change and justice course with Professor Ackerly in the political science department. I had never taken a political science course. So I learned all about the different groups that are more specifically impacted by climate change. We learned a lot about indigenous peoples, people of color. How women are more disproportionately affected by climate change because in so many areas, particularly like low-income areas, women have to carry their water. Which can cause increased mortality rates in childbirth because their uteruses get affected by the further distances they have to walk for water. We learned all about just different nuances in which climate change affects justice issues. It was really cool, to have a science background and understand where the industry is coming from, but then also to be able to be like, OK, well, when I get into the workforce now, I can be able to make these changes knowing these justice concerns and the human rights issues that occur due to my actions.
J: Where do you kind of see yourself going after Vanderbilt?
S: I know that no matter what, I want to do environmental work. And I really want to do something in a chemical engineering industry. I feel like a lot of people, when they think of sustainability, immediately think of like renewable energy companies or Patagonia and green tech. But the places where you can make the most changes, are in the industries that pollute the most. I don’t want to just go into a field where I’m only talking to people who also think the same ways about the climate. I’d much rather try to go in and revolutionize an industry.
J: Can you tell me about some of the sustainability work you do with SPEAR here on campus. And how you got involved?
S: SPEAR is Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility. It’s not like throwing a spear. I got involved as a first year because, when I was in high school, I did a documentary on a killer whale in captivity in Miami. Her name’s Lolita. I knew that I wanted to get involved in environmental organization, animal rights, something around that. And I saw SPEAR at the org fair, and they were like, hey, you like the environment? I was like, yes, actually, I would love to help out. So, I just got more involved with doing volunteer work around Nashville. I joined the board my second semester of freshman year as the service coordinator and was able to make all these amazing community contacts in the environmental sphere. Which was so cool to learn about all these people that dedicate their lives to doing nonprofit work to help the environment.
J: How did this kind of became a passion of yours? You mentioned the whale documentary in high school, but when did you first, beyond fashion, what really made you kind of grab on and be like, oh, this is my cause?
S: I think what it really was, was I had a great English teacher in eleventh grade named Miss Malarkey. She had us read a book called Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. And it kind of detailed, just like the disgusting way that the fast food industry treats its workers and its animals. It’s kind of a brutal book. He’s the same person who produced the documentary Food Inc. on Netflix. And so, I read the book, I watched his documentary, and I got to know more about where my food sources were coming from. I started looking more and more into it, paying more attention to it. I’m from South Florida, so we’re one of the first places that’s going to be gone in climate change. So, it’s always been kind of prevalent in my life. Like protect the beaches, do beach cleanups, and oh, look how much the sands eroded from when I was a kid to whenever I go home now. Just like having those tangible impacts in my life made me be like, OK, well, how can I actually can make a difference in this area?
J: Do you feel like fashion and your work with engineering environmental activism will ever come back together later in life?
S: I hope so. I know that I want to do environmental work. And because fashion is so polluting, I know that at some point I want to end up there. So, either if it’s like a technology that I’m able to create that can help or just, you know, being able to sew on the side. I’ll always make sure to sew on the side. But if I could end up somehow being in that industry at some point my career, that is pretty cool to do.
Class of 2021
Chemical Engineering Major
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida