Whether it’s a dance performance or a business proposal, Sophia Finster’s compassion for the environment underlies everything she’s involved in at the University of Iowa.
Finster came to the UI three years ago to be part of the prestigious Department of Dance, which is ranked among the top 10 in the nation and relatively close to her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.
“My main interest was to major in dance and then move to New York or L.A. and dance somewhere,” says Finster.
But her agenda began to change sophomore year. She took a break from dancing for the first time in 17 years and chose to study marketing at the Henry B. Tippie College of Business. One of her primary classes was Introduction to Marketing, with Professor Dave Collins, who teaches students to incorporate sustainability into their future business practices.
“[His teaching] stood out to me because I had those values, but they hadn’t really been nurtured in an academic setting before," she says.
Finster was inspired to pursue her Certificate in Sustainability, a 24-semester-hour program that encompasses human health, climate, energy, ethics, and the environment. She also reached out to various on-campus organizations, including Net Impact, Eco Hawks, Student Gardeners, and KRUI’s Round River Radio, firmly planting herself in the flourishing community of environmental advocates.
During her junior year, Finster got involved with The Climate Narrative Project, an initiative that explores different ways of communicating the issues of climate change via self-directed, semester-long artistic endeavors. The project is a collaboration between American Book Award winner and writer-in-residence Jeff Biggers and the UI Office of Sustainability.
Finster says the challenging, semester-long fellowship made her realize “the power that dance has to get people to feel things and to communicate ideas.” Now, dance is one of a host of techniques she uses in her activism.
To achieve this communication, Finster often incorporates visuals or props—such as plastic bags and paper towels—into her performances, notably in an improvised performance for her Art and Ecology class, in order to call attention to "people's relationship with stuff."
"When the audience can feel the movement and emotion that dance brings to ideas like environmental issues, the experience can be a lot more dynamic than, say, reading an article," she says.
Her activism now stretches campus-wide. The Education Change Committee that she oversees is restructuring class material, specifically in the Tippie College of Business, to include sustainability principles.
“Sustainability is not a burden—it’s an exciting thing. If we provide the opportunity for people to get educated on this, it’s going to be a competitive advantage for the college, just like it’s a competitive advantage for all businesses," she says.
After graduation in May, Finster will use the connections she's made on and off campus to continue pursuing sustainable business endeavors. She's been able to network with both local and national environmental leaders. Many, like Kevin Wilhelm, founder of Sustainable Business Consulting, have inspired Finster, and she’s eager to dedicate herself to this growing community of environmental pioneers full time.