Every Purdue student has a story. Each individual brings distinctive experiences, perspectives and skills to the University, and each takes away something different. Commencement is the shared milestone in that process. We’re celebrating the collective achievements of the Class of 2019 by telling the unique stories of some of its outstanding members. Today, meet Kasha Halbleib, NRES.
As a first-year student at Purdue, Kasha Halbleib was quiet and shy. On Saturday the confident senior from Carmel, Indiana, will graduate in Natural Resources and Environmental Science (NRES) with minors in Spanish, Political Science, and Environmental Politics and Policy — and a resume chock-full of achievement and leadership.
Halbleib had always loved the outdoors without realizing its career potential. “I didn’t know you could study the environment until my junior year of high school, when I took AP Environmental Science,” she says.
At Purdue she was drawn to NRES by its interdisciplinary approach, although she didn’t fully grasp what that meant. With the perspective of a graduating senior, she says her interdisciplinary studies have given her transferable skills: “When you’re asked if you know not just about the science, but also GIS, economics, politics and marketing, you can say, ‘Yes, I do have experience in that.’”
After a summer internship, Halbleib will practice those skills at the University of Colorado Law School. She wants to help both the environment and marginalized populations by practicing environmental law with a focus on environmental justice.
Many aspiring law school students major in political science. But a supervising attorney with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency endorsed Halbleib’s different path. “He said my science background will help me understand environmental laws and explain them to nonscientists,” she says. “I think it made me a stronger candidate.”
In retrospect, three experiences at Purdue most shaped her, Halbleib says: an immersive study abroad program in Madrid, Spain the spring semester of her sophomore year; the Ayuda y Aprende program in which she worked with ENL (English as a New Language) students of all ages and proficiency levels in the Lafayette schools; and leadership in Purdue’s Environmental Science Club, which “allowed me to escape my desk and connect to nature, calming my thoughts and organizing my ideas,” she says.
She credits four faculty and staff members for their support. She says of her mentor Linda Prokopy, professor of natural resources social science: “If I were a professor after I practiced law, I would want to be like her.” Halbleib credits Zhao Ma, associate professor of natural resource social science, for teaching her the importance and how-tos of research; and NRES academic advisor Tami Borror for keeping her on track and showing genuine interest in how she was doing. And Halbleib says Megha Anwer, clinical assistant professor in the Honors College, helped her “become a better leader and a better communicator.”
Among the highlights on Halbleib’s extensive Purdue resume are membership in Phi Beta Kappa, Honors College, undergraduate research, two internships, Environmental Science Ambassador, and NRES’s nominee for Student of the Year for the College of Agriculture in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. Her honors include the CILMAR Academic Achievement Abroad award, Honors College Mentor of the Year and semi-finalist for a Fulbright Study/Research grant.
Her accomplishments are all the more noteworthy given that Halbleib was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder related to colitis “out of the blue” last October.
“Take advantage of all the experiences you can at Purdue,” she advises incoming students. “Agriculture is a close-knit, warm community. But it’s also Purdue, so there are so many different possibilities that you won’t be able to experience all at once at any time in your life beyond college.
“If I look back to freshman year now, it seems like a very long time ago,” she adds. “But I think I was a different person then.”