Following Her Path: Jessika Luth Richter ’01

A world citizen. A teacher. An environmental activist. A park ranger. All of these roles —and a purposeful journey from California, Pennsylvania, and Washington to Australia, England, and New Zealand — came together in the next step for Jessika Luth Richter ’01. She’s now working on a master’s degree in environmental management and policy at Lund University in Sweden.

Working in the Eglinton Valley, New Zealand

Working in the Eglinton Valley, New Zealand

“I’ve been interested and involved in environmental issues for a long time,” she says. “I decided on this program because it has a multi-disciplinary approach focused on solutions and prevention rather than just studying the problems.”

Richter, most recently assistant head of science at Southland Girls’ High School in Invercargill, New Zealand, participated last fall in the first semester of the program as a distance learning project.

“My 26 classmates were from all over the world,” she exclaims. “For our Skype discussions, we split into groups of five. My recent group represented four continents. We are all from different backgrounds, as well — engineers, lawyers, business managers. We learned from each other and our professors about all facets of environmental problems and the full scope of available solutions.”

A double major in history and geology at Lafayette, she did EXCEL research with D.C. Jackson, professor of history, on the Hetch Hetchy dam project and wrote an honors thesis on John R. Freeman, an early 20th-century civil engineer and insurance executive who designed dams and pioneered the development of earthquake insurance. After graduation, she worked as a ranger at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area in Washington for a summer season and then for Readak Educational Services, a job that involved travel throughout the United States and to the Czech Republic and Australia. “The second trip to ‘Oz’ convinced me I wanted to live there,” she says, “so I moved and obtained a graduate diploma in education from the University of Melbourne and began teaching at Haileybury College.”

At Haileybury, a secondary school, Richter taught history, geography, English, and math to ninth-graders. “The students were involved in a special program in which the geography component was taught in one 10-day outdoor education camp each term and a 10-day city excursion in the last term. This program is what attracted me to teach at this school at this level.”

With husband Jens Richter

With husband Jens Richter

Richter, whose recent environmental activities include volunteering with the local community nursery and the conservation organization Forest and Bird, was stirred to action by her experience in the park service. “I helped plant native plants, count yellow-eyed penguins, maintain nature trails, and march against mining in the national parks.” While in Melbourne, she was involved with the MarineCare organization in planting native trees and other conservation activities around Rickett’s Point near where she lived.

Her concern about the environment led her to seek a way to be more involved in finding solutions. “Education is a big part of that,” she says, “but there is more to it. My first thought was environmental law, so I completed a semester at the University of Melbourne law school, and, while I liked it, it seemed the long way around to policy, which is what I was really interested in. Then I found the environmental management and policy program at Lund — exactly what I was looking for.”

Whence does this adventuresome spirit arise? “I was born in Missouri, and we lived in Colorado, and then I went to high school in California,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to live in other parts of the world, beginning with moving to the East Coast to go to college.”

Richter spent a January interim session studying in Kenya and Tanzania, and while working at Haileybury she taught for four months in Newcastle, England, in a working-holiday program. “I was always a big Brit lit fan, so it was amazing to see all the things there that you read about in books. I got to attend my first Guy Fawkes bonfire, and I biked and walked through the Northumberland countryside seeing Hadrian’s Wall and old English estates.”

Richter, a Marquis Scholar, won the James F. Bryant ’40 Excellence Award, presented to a junior each year for high academic achievement, lettering in a varsity sport, and involvement in community service. She captained the swim team as a senior. She still swims, but in open water settings, and has been playing soccer. “I even ran the Melbourne Marathon but I’m not a serious runner, so that was a once in a lifetime event.”

“The good rapport I developed with my professors at Lafayette has had an ongoing influence on me,” she says. Jackson and Dru Germanoski, Van Artsdalen Professor of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, were especially supportive. “It was this that made me feel confident about returning to school to get my master’s 10 years later.”