Students You Should Know: Kara Poppe

Kara Poppe's email signature closes with words spoken by the Lorax, a character created by Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, in his book "The Lorax." This environmentally aware character says, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

Kara Poppe
Poppe is spending eight weeks in a rural Kenyan community as a ThinkImpact Scholar.

"The Lorax" is one of Poppe's favorite books because it mirrors her commitment to caring a whole awful lot to make things better.

"I want to work in the sustainability/environmental area because leaving the world a better place for future generations is important to me," she said.

Poppe, a junior majoring in geography: environmental systems, has cared a whole awful lot at UNI by, among other things, being a team leader for the Panther Plot (a 12,000-square-foot campus vegetable, herb and flower garden), working part time in UNI's Office of Sustainability, being an active member of the Geography Club and Student Nature Society, and serving as the 2012-13 director of environmental affairs for Northern Iowa Student Government.

For eight weeks during summer 2013, Poppe is broadening her commitment to caring by being a ThinkImpact Scholar in a rural Kenyan community. ThinkImpact is a Denver, Colo.-based company that offers an immersion program to college students, graduate students and young professionals. This program focuses on training the next generation of social entrepreneurs. Students from around the world were chosen as scholars; Poppe is one of only two scholars from the Midwest.

Two teams of eight scholars live with host families and work in rural villages while addressing poverty. During their first two weeks in Kenya, Poppe and her fellow scholars experience day-to-day life in the village. During the next two weeks, the teams expand as each scholar identifies a social challenge and works with community members to perform an opportunity analysis. Poppe is quick to point out that "opportunity" is the right word to use because ThinkImpact and its scholars are optimists and idea generators who see opportunities, not deficiencies and needs.

"We don't know what those opportunities are because we were told not to do any research before we left," Poppe said. "We all came to Kenya with an open mind."

Kara Poppe
During her time in Kenya, Poppe will live with host families and work in rural villages addressing poverty.

During the final four weeks of their experience, scholars and villagers test their ideas, and once they've gotten the bugs worked out, team members work on the plan together. As Poppe has learned, the key to overcoming poverty is teaching people how to actively participate in and design their own solutions.

"We want community members to be able to do the work after we leave so it's not just people from the U.S. coming in with money and then leaving," she said.

Not everyone could handle eight weeks away from friends and family, living in a country they've never been to before. But Poppe knew the opportunity to travel to Africa for two and a half months probably wouldn't present itself after graduation, so she got out of her comfort zone and is digging right in.

"I really think I was chosen as a scholar because of the experiences I've had at UNI," she said. "On my application I highlighted how I've learned to lead; how I've collaborated with various students and staff across campus; how I've learned to research, design and implement projects; and my ability to build and sustain partnerships. I don't think I would have had these experiences at the private colleges I was looking at before choosing UNI."

As she continues her mission to care a whole awful lot and make a difference, Poppe is open to what life holds after graduation in 2015. "I'm just going to let this opportunity with ThinkImpact lead me where it's supposed to," she said. "I'm being exposed to people all over the world, so who knows what might happen because of these connections."

Poppe is chronicling her experiences on her blog. Check it out at