Kate Maiolatesi is on a mission no less ambitious than saving the world. "I'm very politically minded, mostly about environmental issues," says Maiolatesi, "and it just drives me crazy all the stuff that goes wrong."
For example, global warming: "You know the 350.org thing, right? If we can keep the carbon dioxide levels at 350 parts per million, we're kind of ok. Right now we're at 390, and it's only going up."
And global agriculture: "Large corporations run our food system. They buy up all the small farms and make huge farms and all they do is grow corn, soy and wheat and they're really not for eating. They use them to trade to other countries or manufacture packaged products that make you unhealthy."
Maiolatesi is listed in the faculty directory as a professor of veterinary and animal science. For many years, that was her primary focus, and even though she still teaches courses in that department, her passion for the past eight years has been sustainability studies. "A program only works if there is a champion," she says. "There has to be somebody who cares enough about it to really do it."
At HCC, that champion is Maiolatesi.
She studied biology at the University of Wyoming and received her master's degree there in animal-based physiology and genetics. For 10 years, she conducted medical research in genetics on children with leukemia.
"It was the saddest job," she recalls. "This is what I had planned to do and I hated doing it."
She moved to western Massachusetts to pursue a PhD at UMass in resource conservation, a precursor to sustainability, a term not yet in vogue, and work for the U.S. Soil Conversation Service doing plantings for wildlife near dam projects. Meanwhile, she was asked to fill in -- temporarily -- to teach a veterinary course at HCC. With reservations, she accepted. She liked it and stayed but never finished her PhD. That was 29 years ago.
"I taught in the vet program for all those years, but what I really liked was sustainability studies," she says.
She started teaching the first sustainability classes at HCC 13 years ago as part of a Learning Community. In 2005, she took a sabbatical to teach sustainable architecture and sustainable agriculture at Evergreen State College in Washington State. She returned to help launch the Sustainability Studies program at HCC.
"Sustainability is about how humans interact with the environment," she says. "It's about changing mindsets, having people work to save the planet in their everyday life."
She is now the principal coordinator for HCC's Sustainability Studies program. She still teaches Introduction to Sustainability as a Learning Community and has added Sustainable Agriculture, Introduction to Sustainable Energy and the Politics of Food to her courseload. Spring of 2012 saw graduates earning the first degrees from HCC in Sustainability Studies. The 2012-2013 catalog added a Sustainable Agriculture option as well. Students can also earn certificates in solar energy and wind energy, programs largely supported by federal grants Maiolatesi helped write.
She was awarded the Marieb Award for Teaching Excellence at Commencement in May 2012.
On top of that, Maiolatesi is the academic advisor to the Sustainability Club and the force behind the campus sustainability garden, now in its third season, where she can often be found, scratching in the dirt.