Digging Deep: Volleyball Player to Farm in India

Thursday, May 10, 2012
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Jessy Dick '12

Volleyball player Jessy Dick ’12 heading for a farm in India in the fall.

Four years ago, as one of Canada’s top junior women’s volleyball prospects coming out of high school, Jessy Dick ’12 crossed the continent from Lethbridge, Alberta, to play for UNH. Now, on the brink of graduation, the standout defensive player is preparing to cross a different continent and apply her knowledge as a top graduate in the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture environmental sciences program to the issue of sustainable agriculture in developing countries. She already has her one-way ticket to India, and sees herself spending at least a year in Asia volunteering on and helping to establish sustainable farming operations in that country and possibly others—maybe Indonesia, or Thailand, Nepal, or Tibet.

Or maybe all of the above.

If Dick’s plans for the coming year sound overly ambitious, consider the many and varied accomplishments she realized at UNH. A member of both the Student Athletes Advisory Committee and Athletes InterVarsity—athletics-based groups dedicated to volunteer work and community outreach—Dick has also participated in the UNH Leadership Camp, the Student Environmental Action Coalition, and OXFAM. She’s coached NH Seacoast junior volleyball, volunteered for Read Across America, taken a spring break to rebuild houses in New Orleans, spent a summer in New Zealand through UNH EcoQuest, and interned gratis to conduct carbon sequestration research. For three years running, she’s earned the volleyball team’s Judy Ray Academic Excellence Award for maintaining the highest GPA. On the 19th, she will graduate as a University Honors Program Presidential Scholar and a member of two scientific honor societies.

“I’m very good at time management,” Dick says with a laugh. “Being very organized is critical when you’re a Division I student-athlete.”

Jessy Dick '12

Jessy Dick in New Zealand at UNH EcoQuest.

After four years of labs and exams, workouts and travel matches, the sunny strawberry blonde is ready for a change of pace. In October, she will meet fellow UNH and EcoQuest alumna Kiva Stephens-Ladd ’11 in New Delhi and the pair will join Navdanya, a network of organic farms and seed cooperatives that spans 16 Indian states. Employing her background in soil mineralogy, Dick hopes to help native farmers use sustainable farming techniques to optimize their crops. “I started out studying environmental conservation, but after I took a soils class with Serita Frey, I realized I could really make more of a difference by understanding the science of farming—things like pH and water content and microbial activity,” she explains. “At some point, I can see myself in grad school, but now right now it feels like it’s time for me to get my hands dirty, in the most literal sense, and start to share what I’ve learned.”

Dick isn’t above poking fun at her own environmentalist zeal—her friends will often teasingly call her “Dr. Dick,” she says, when she holds forth on one subject or another—but her dedication is absolute. She and Stephens-Ladd settled on India as a launching point because the concept of sustainable agriculture is already well established there, and the demographics are favorable for preaching environmental awareness, with some 54% of the population under the age of 25. At Navdanya, she is prepared to perform any role that is needed, from watering and weeding to distributing produce to educating local farmers, regardless of the language barriers that might present themselves.

After a month or so with Navdanya, Dick says she will see where the best opportunities are. For someone who has excelled by virtue of her impeccable planning and organization skills throughout her college career, she is remarkably undaunted by the notion of taking things as they come.

“I’ve been so fortunate to have so many opportunities here at UNH,” she says. “But many of my most rewarding experiences were things that I really came upon by chance and then decided to go for them. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in college is believing I can achieve whatever goals I set out for myself.”

Planning to travel with nothing more than the possessions she can fit in a backpack, that belief may well be one of the two most important things she will carry with her. The other might be the old volleyball she plans to deflate and tuck in with her clothing. Who knows what will happen, who she might inspire, when she pumps it up again on the other side of the world?