As a freshman entering Brown, I was lost.
In a school without a core curriculum, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the more than 500 courses I was allowed to take under the open curriculum in the first semester itself, especially when I was deciding what concentrations to pursue and how that decision will play into God’s will for my life.
Even though I entered Brown intending to study Physics, I could not resist checking out all the other options it had to offer.
So my first semester at Brown was composed of classes in Physics, Politics, Business and French – I was a freshman who had too many interests and wanted to pursue all of them. I look around at this amazing world that God had created and as a Christian, I just felt the need to understand as much about it as I humanly could.
Each and every one of us has been blessed with gifts and personally, I wanted to make use of them to pursue my interests to the best of my abilities. In a sense, this was the verse that kept guiding me:
“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men”
– Colossians 3:23 (KJV) (emphasis added)
Fast forward to now, as a senior concentrating in Political Science and Geology, I look back and am grateful for how God has worked in guiding me to pursuing the interests I had.
During my junior year, I was talking to my concentration advisor and just listing out the areas where I felt most interested in – politics, law, human rights, geology, space etc. –to get an idea of what kind of career I might want to pursue. While listening, I learned that environmental law existed at the intersection of many of these areas.
Environmental law is an area where both the sciences and the law coincide to make an impact not just the well being of people but also the Earth and all of God’s creation. The laws and policies enacted and the actions that follow them have a broad reach that I feel I should care about not only as a human but also as a Christian.
From the beginning of creation:
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Man was placed on Earth and one of the first tasks God gave us was to care for the environment.
Moreover, in Psalm 24:1 it states, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”
This isn’t our world to begin with – we don’t own the Earth. The Psalmist states that the Earth belongs to God and we’re simply the caretakers.
Just take a look around. The pollution from Man’s activities, the destruction to the environment and the many small (but collectively significant) activities we partake of on a daily basis, so that we can live a better life, at the cost of the environment – don’t do justice to the task God gave us in taking “care” of the environment. I, as a Christian, need to do more to protect this Earth, created by our God.
As a student in college, I can only do so much. Yet, when I think of how God can make use of my talents and being blessed with the undeserving privilege I have here at Brown, my heart yearns to do more.
With that upon my heart, I enrolled in a class called ‘Engaged Climate Policy at the UN’ last semester– working as a researcher on climate change policies. Through the class, I published a report together with my colleagues on how diligent developed countries were in following up on their promises to provide $100 billion in climate finance to developing countries. This $100 billion is meant to fund the many adaptation projects that are sorely needed in developing countries deeply affected by climate change and are unable to fund themselves.
At the end of the semester, my classmates and I had the unique opportunity to travel to Paris to take part in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties 21 (COP21). While at the conference, I worked with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) helping to analyze legal negotiation texts from a scientific perspective and providing briefs that were used to advise negotiators with. The negotiators of different countries and organizations were all discussing on what should and should not be in the final Paris Agreement that will have a broad impact on all parties to the UN – essentially all the UN countries.
This was probably one of the first times where I saw the tangible impact my skills and knowledge acquired over the years in college could have in a real world setting.
At the end of the first week, I left to finish my finals at Brown, but the conference went on. A week later, I got the news that a new climate agreement had been reached – the first in over 20 years. Not perfect, but it is still a substantial policy outcome that will pave the way for more action to be done in the years to come.
I continue to work as a climate change policy research assistant at Brown’s Climate Development Lab and it’s a fulfilling experience for me, knowing I can do my part in sustaining the environment.
If environmentalism is my way of caring for the Earth that we live on, then space exploration is my way of caring for all of God’s creation that exists outside of it.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
(Psalm 19:1, NIV)
Space, outer space, is just an observable marvelous statement of God’s majesty. The more I learn about it, the more I feel awed by the incredible care with which God created the universe. Thus I, as a Christian, feel the need to learn more about it.
Since my youth, I’ve been fascinated with space, developing an interest in astronomy as a kid and eventually pursuing it in a competitive manner all the way through high school. One of the reasons I chose Physics at Brown was so that I could potentially pursue Astrophysics as a concentration here. While my academic concentration declaration did not exactly line up the way I intended initially, I found my way of chasing this fascination with space through other means.
In one of the business classes I took as a freshman, I decided to tackle the problem of ‘Why aren’t more people interested in space?’ as a business problem. Working together with a friend of mine, we designed an app that would introduce more teachers and thus students to the wonders of space. Yet, that was not enough. In my sophomore summer, we decided to reconvene and tackle the bigger problem of why society as a whole isn’t interested in space exploration. We concluded after a semester-long independent study that it’s because most people simply don’t see a connection between what they study academically and space exploration.
Traditionally, space education is perceived as just exclusively for scientists/ engineers/ mathematicians – but we wanted to break down that barrier. We wanted to make it something that people from diverse backgrounds can still take part in.
Thus began Metaplaneta – a creative think tank that tries to explore an interdisciplinary approach to space exploration. Together with a fellowship awarded to us by Brown, a friend and I convened our junior summer and implemented workshops in Singapore, Japan and here at Brown, on how we can make the connection between multiple academic fields and space exploration.
My junior summer research for Metaplaneta ended up taking me to interview various professionals from space policy experts at the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) meeting in Vienna, Austria to the chief scientist of the European Space Agency (ESA) in Noordwijk, Netherlands and finally to businessmen involved in the space industry at a conference in Munich, Germany amongst others. The aim of the summer research was to find a proof of concept for Metaplaneta, which we did, and in the process made numerous network connections who’d help us later in our workshops.
Our workshops incorporated professionals and students from diverse fields such as architecture, business, politics and science amongst others, to solve problems in space through an integrated design approach (IDA). Not only were the students and professionals able to learn from one another, but it also encouraged the students to make a connection between their non-science/math backgrounds and space. Overall, the workshops had the cumulative effect of getting people excited about space, a realm of God’s creation which I feel all humans should indeed be excited about.
In fact, one of the speakers we had in the event we organized at Brown, Space Horizons 2016, was a Christian theology professor from Germany who spoke about the intersection of space and religion – it got many in the audience to think about both religion and space with a new perspective.
As I continue to plan what shape our venture Metaplaneta might take after graduation and how my involvement with environmentalism will evolve, I’m still left in astonishment how far God has brought me and where else He’ll take me.
I am doing what I can, to pursue my passions “heartily” as I would to the Lord and not simply for myself or towards Man.
In the end, I want to be able to say, just as Paul did:
2 Timothy 4:7
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Despite being a graduating senior (by God’s grace) I am still a little lost – I care deeply about many issues, maybe too many. But then again, why should a Christian ever stop caring?
Sujay Natson is a senior at Brown concentrating in Political Science and Geology.