A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing alumnus Harry Hadland ’15, Political Science major and former president of Students for Sustainability. He has been working for the Houston Food Bank since 2017 and applying what he learned on the hilltop in his everyday life.
As an Alumni, what is your current position and what does it entail?
I am the Business Process Manager for the Houston Food Bank (HFB). I oversee process development, facilitate interdepartmental communication, and project manage implementation of new technology for our Strategic Partnership Division. For the two years preceding this position, I was Food for Change Manager at HFB and oversaw a department that works to pair food resources with meaningful programming in Education, Employment, Housing, Financial Literacy, and Health to positively impact clients’ lives.
If it relates to sustainability, how so?
HFB is the largest food bank in the nation, sourcing and distributing food to those in need throughout our 18-county service area. This past year, we distributed the equivalent of 104 million nutritious meals. Food banks play a key role in dealing with sustainability and prevention of waste. A large portion of our food comes from major retail donors, who would otherwise have to throw away millions of pounds of food that is still good, but close to the “expiration” date. We source “ugly produce” that is also perfectly good, but doesn’t conform to how the normally marketed produce looks (for example, a carrot with two legs instead of one). Additionally, we receive large quantities of food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – a good portion of which currently are “trade mitigation” goods that would have otherwise gone to waste because of the tariff wars going on between the U.S. and other countries. We are then able to redistribute the food we receive to clients through our partner food pantries, meal sites, or other programming.
HFB also helps individuals apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – formerly food stamps, which puts cash in qualifying individuals’ hands to purchase food. Certain farmers market locations are involved in a program that doubles the cash value for SNAP recipients who shop at those locations.
Did your time at St. Edward’s shape your current (or future) career path? How so?
Absolutely! Looking at issues of social justice and how to address them has become a key component of my career so far. Looking at such problems as poverty, food insecurity, racial inequity, education, and access to health care have been central to my work as HFB has shifted to addressing the root causes of food insecurity. As a quick aside, the USDA’s Economic Research Service defines food insecurity as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” Also noted by the USDA, some 14.3 million households in the U.S. were food insecure in 2018. Such a systemic problem of inadequate access to healthy and nutritious food is directly related to social justice.
My liberal arts education gave me direct exposure to critical thinking, dedication to service, and open dialogues on impactful social issues. My involvement in student life at St. Edward’s was also critical for the development of my leadership skills, working with diverse perspectives, and honing my ability to facilitate change. In my current position as Business Process Manager, having such a foundation is invaluable. In my current role, I am working to make our organization’s processes more streamlined and encouraging an innovative and collaborative culture. This involves working with staff at all levels of the organization in a variety of different departments.
During your time here on campus you were the President for Students for Sustainability. What drew you to the organization?
I was raised as a literal tree hugger (I’m not joking, my grandmother took me to a park as a kid and had me hug trees) and also was taught by my dad to have a respect for the environment (we pretty much always spent at least some time on our family vacations to the beach picking up trash). My grandfather was a science teacher on my dad’s side who founded an environmental club at the public school he taught at. My grandfather on my mom’s side was an avid fisherman and sportsman. My mom also always encouraged me to pursue my passions and interests. With a family like that, my passion for environmental and sustainability issues was nurtured and encouraged. What specifically drew me to SFS was that it not only looked at environmental issues, but also looked at ways to reframe the conversation and deliberately reach a wider audience. So, this organization gave me a chance to match my passion in these areas with my other passion for engaging in and having a positive impact on the community.
How did being president of the organization shape your time at St. Edwards and how did it change your perception of sustainability?
My time as president of SFS gave me the opportunity to turn my Student Life experience and passion for sustainability issues into real action on our campus. Additionally, it gave me the ability to spend time working with really cool people who were like-minded and similarly driven. I learned so much from my fellow organization members, who brought such interesting perspectives, knowledge, and life experiences to the table.
What do you hope to see from the organization in the future?
I hope to see SFS be a place where future sustainability leaders connect (no matter their career path) and make a real impact in a community to which they belong. Whether something members work on succeeds or fails, such experience is invaluable and even small wins can be impactful. There is also a need for looking at what each generation of SFS members can pass down to those who will come after them.
What advice would you give to a current student interested in environmentalism and sustainability?
There’s a lot going on in the world right now. On one side, our technological advancement and societal awareness of environmental issues have never been at such an incredible point, but on the other side, it seems like we just cannot move fast enough to change the path we are on. Finding your personal talents and passion (the intersection of the two are so important), then leveraging that to impact the organizations or communities you will be a part of is so important. Also, remember the importance of self-care and awareness in your journey, otherwise you risk becoming burnt out and that’s definitely a real thing!
In what ways could a student involve themselves off campus?
I highly recommend finding volunteer opportunities in areas that match up with your future interests. In lieu of direct work experience, volunteer experience can be highly valuable when applying for a job, especially in the non-profit sector. A lot of non-profits need skilled volunteers to apply themselves in areas that would be given to employees in the private sector. This can lead to accomplishments for the student that could go on their resume and the ability to make connections with individuals who could help make the difference if you’re interested in a particular job (either as a direct referral or a reference).
What experience or impact has stayed with you from St. Edward’s?
There are so many experiences that have stayed with me from my time from St. Edward’s, so it’s hard to pick one! There are the professors who acted as mentors and challenged me to grow, friendships that helped change my perspective on things, and my time in Students for Sustainability and Student Life that helped develop leadership and professional skills. I’ll also never forget the view from in front of Main Building overlooking downtown Austin! Some of my favorite moments involved just looking out from that spot and taking it all in.