Left to Right, three photos: Borders and her fiancé, Borders and President Drake and Borders with her two degrees

Ohio State Alumna Ties Passions of German, Environmental Science

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May 19, 2020

By: Meredith Oglesby 

What can someone with a degree in environmental science and German do? A recent Ohio State graduate navigates this question, forging connections between these two distinct areas of study. 

Maggie Borders, a 2019 graduate, chose to pursue a dual degree in environmental science, with a specialization in soil science and environmental sustainability, and in German language and literature. 

“It's really nice to have the different fields, just being involved in two very different things because they do overlap but not in obvious ways,” Borders says. 

In 2017, Borders began to see the many correlations through participating in the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange Program. She spent two months in Cologne, Germany, studying at a language school, Carl-Duisberg Centrum. She then spent 10 months in Hamburg, Germany, studying at the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg and obtained an internship. She lived with two host families while in Germany. 

Enrolled in the environmental engineering and assessment track at the University of Applied Science in Hamburg, she took five classes — entirely in German. 

“It was a lot,” Borders says. “But, I made some really great connections and actually had a professor ask me to give a presentation about what it was like to study the environment in the United States.” 

Through these contacts, Borders successfully pursued an internship with the Institute for Environmental IT in Hamburg, Germany. 

For five months, Borders worked for the consulting team to conduct and produce models for lifecycle assessments, which are a way to assess environmental impacts associated with all stages of producing a commercial product, process or service. 

A model is a computerized representation of a process such as the production of a zipper. The model provides the data to use for the assessment which analyzes the environmental impact of the process. The assessment shows which stages of the process are most impactful, how they are impacting the environment and how they compare to other processes or products. The assessments can answer questions related to impacts of biodiversity loss, deforestation and smog while also analyzing the carbon footprint of the product. 

Borders built seven unique models and 50 models total. For the unique models there were no previously created models for her to make comparisons and each one represented a different manufacturing process. She created these models by studying scientific literature, production data and pieces of the actual product they were analyzing for the lifecycle assessment. 

“They compared one of my models to a model that was built using primary data from a producer,” Borders says. “It got way closer than any of the generic models, which was a good feeling. They actually use my model as a marketing point now.” 

The projects the institute produces are in English, because it is the prevalent language of science, and the company asked Borders, as a student who was fluent in both English and German, to proofread their reports. Borders worked as a proofreading consultant even after her internship ended.

In recognition of her work with the Institute for Environmental IT, Borders received a College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Internship Award in 2019. 

Because of her intercultural experience in Germany, Borders finds herself thinking more broadly about the world. 

“I have a better appreciation for how other people think about the same issues that we face, especially in a world where issues are global and no longer regional,” Borders says. 

Student organizations and campus jobs also gave Borders an outlet to converge her interests in German and environmental sciences.

Borders was a member of the first cohort of the Students Understanding Sustainability and Taking Action to Improve Nature and Society (SUSTAINS) learning community, with 15 students. SUSTAINS gave her insight into sustainability from different perspectives.

“SUSTAINS sort of broke down the barriers of a large school, and I could connect with people of many majors and find out what we had in common,” Borders says. 

Borders speaking at the pre-commencement luncheon.

Borders went on to serve for two years as a resident advisor for SUSTAINS, where she integrated innovative programming and encouraged a more sustainable thought process for students.

Another organization Borders became actively involved in was the German Club, which she helped to completely reinvigorate. The club focuses on language and cultural activities while also providing tutoring services. To honor Borders’ contributions to the German Club, the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures recognized Borders with the Dieter Cunz Award for Outstanding Graduating Senior in German in 2019. 

As another way to highlight her accomplishments, University President Michael V. Drake asked Borders to speak to the December 2019 commencement honorees during the pre-commencement luncheon.

Borders held jobs on campus and worked as a student administrative assistant for the Sustainable and Resilient Economy Discovery Theme, since merged into the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State, and in the Soil, Water and Environmental Lab. These experiences “helped my education a lot,” Borders says.

After graduating, Borders moved to Vermont to be with her fiancé and now works as a lab technician at the Vermont Compost Co. and with the Student Conservation Association as an AmeriCorps intern with University of Vermont Extension doing soil and water quality case studies. 

Borders continues to use her German degree and recently began two monthly Stammtisch events — informal German speaking group meetings held on a regular basis — one for beginners and one for fluent speakers. She also helps nanny for a German couple and their two children. 

“Speaking German with a bilingual 4-year-old is very different than speaking with pretty much anyone else, and it's been a lot of fun,” Borders says.

In her free time, Borders has found a love for gardening. She started a container garden using 5-gallon buckets on her balcony and a plot at a community garden. She has also begun reading the Harry Potter series in German. 

“I never read it as a kid, and I've learned a lot of new magic-related words,” Borders says. 

Borders is passionate about forging connections and finding opportunities to connect the two areas where she has found an interest. As she continues to navigate life after college, she is excited to learn more about soil science and speak in German. 

“I think it's really important (that) people diversify themselves for their own benefit,” Borders says. “And I don't think that's made me any less of a soil scientist or any less of a German literature scholar. I see connections that other people don't see because I have a more diverse set of experiences.” 

Meredith Oglesby is a communication assistant for the Sustainability Institute.