10 Questions with Annabelle O’Neil

Annabelle O’Neil is a sophomore at CC, member of the Sustainability Council, and a resident of Old Synergy. O’Neil passionately pursues geology and is a wonderfully colorful human, inside and out. 

Becca Stine: What was your favorite birthday party?

Annabelle O’Neil: When I turned six, it was a Roxaboxen party. It’s a children’s storybook about these kids who live in the desert and they make a little village for themselves to live in out of desert glass and dried up twigs and rocks. So for my birthday party we all made these dioramas of them and it was so fun.

BS: Why have you chosen to study geology and what do you love so much about it? 

AO: I have been collecting rocks since I was really little, and my dad had a huge set of rock and mineral books that I used to kind of marvel over. And there was this book, that was another one of my favorites, called “Rocks in his Head,” and my parents would always read it to me, but change it to be “Rocks in Her Head.” It was about this man who just would always carry a mineral in his pocket, and whenever he met someone he would just say, “take a look at this one!” And I just really liked that. I didn’t really realize that I loved rocks and geology so much until I took a summer class during high school at CC—Geology and Volcanic History of Colorado— and I had a badass woman professor who basically took us all around Colorado. We were just hiking and camping for a month in the summer, and it was cool to see it in that respect.

I want to work on behalf of Mama Earth for my life, and I see how understanding what little I can of basic earth processes is a way to help work for Mama Earth, because I can understand how she works a little bit. I knew that it was a hard physical science, and that I am not inherently the kind of person that would normally be good at that kind of thing, but I wanted to take it on as a challenge, and a kind of game for myself to push it to become more intersectional, because I think that in order to deal with the problems of our time we need to learn from many disciplines.

BS: Favorite combination of food you’ve ever cooked?

AO: My staple amalgam, I like to call them, is a lot of green things in a pan, AKA spinach because that’s my number three favorite food, and red things like tomatoes and then beige things like rice or quinoa (if it’s a treat), and then lots of fun rainbow additions like nuts and purple things and I just like to put a lot of weird things from the fridge in a pan. Amalgams, bam.

BS: What is the hardest part about being a female in the field of geology?

AO: I love my male counterparts and my geo crew, but I often feel the pressures on me and the challenges that are inherent to this study and discipline, which was founded by wealthy men in Great Britain in the 1800s who were curious about understanding the natural world. I feel challenged in the classroom because of various aspects of my identity. I only identity with a few, alternate to the mainstream identities. Some days when I like to dress crazy and colorful, I feel like an outsider sometimes because there is a masculine mainstream current even down to how to dress as a geologist, and how to dress as a geologist woman for sure. I noticed things happen in the classroom that are social situations because of gender, but there are also things that cross all the identities. Like one can barely have a student job and be a geo major because of the time demands on us, and I find that to be very challenging because I personally need to. I’ve tried my best to claim my identity as being a woman and a geologist because it feels important to me, but also I wish that I didn’t have to do that, and that it would just feel normal to be in a classroom. But when there’s four girls and 15 guys in a class it’s pretty obvious.

BS: What is your role/biggest achievement in the Sustainability Council?

AO: I am the Buildings and Grounds Intern, which means that I lead a team of two awesome students who work to improve structural sustainability on campus, specifically related to the buildings and different building projects, and landscaping. So that involves irrigation, xeroscaping, managing our trees and all that. It’s a huge job and there should be 50 students at least working on it, so it’s pretty daunting to be the one person being a student paid to lead it.

My biggest achievement? Well with the help of Char Cadow, we got our campus to be Tree certified through the Arbor Day Foundation, which will standardize tree health management on campus. In the past few years our campus trees have been struggling, and many have had to be taken down for many reasons that are not solely our fault but are also related to droughts historically in Colorado in 2008 and 2009. We wrote a plan this past fall to set guidelines for how we will be managing the trees going forward, and engaging the community with that and educating everybody about the trees on our campus because we have some pretty amazing, both native and foreign, trees habituating among us. The other thing is that Corey, Page, and I wrote a document that will set guidelines for all future landscape and building projects, and that’s currently in its final edit stages. That will be awesome because it will ensure that sustainability is a part of the design process of any major project going forward, which is a pretty big deal for CC to be given our tenants as a college, and has already been happening with Tutt Library. Tutt Library is going to be net zero, which means that the carbon emissions we generate as a result of burning carbon emissions is offset by clean energy such as solar, etc.

BS: What are the challenges/hardest parts about working for the Sustainability Council?

AO: Given our country’s events of recent history, a lot of students have taken interest in CC’s sustainability, and have come to us with a lot of frustration and passion for what we are or aren’t doing. I see a disconnect between our student body’s general knowledge on what we do as an institution on campus to be sustainable, and what is actually happening. It is so hard to communicate that, and we’re working to do that, and I am so proud of what the Office of Sustainability does. We’ve already got administration working with us in a number of ways, and we’re struggling to find a synergy between how we as an office work, and how students live their daily life on campus, because sometimes its really hard to enact such structural changes when students make specific lifestyle choices that aren’t specifically coinciding with our goals. So the hardest times with this job are knowing that this is kind of on us, however many handfuls of interns we are, to be the ones to make things happen, because we kind of are the ones making big things happen and its amazing that we have this much responsibility and freedom to do that, but it comes up a lot in conversation with students, and can be really hard, but also really fulfilling and healing and connecting to talk with students and engage on these really challenging passionate issues, and get good ideas out of it from other people’s amazing perspectives.

BS: What is your dream job?

AO: I have so many dreams, but one of my dreams is to teach young people about how nature works, and investigate that question myself along with them. And involve being outside, with art and science, because science rules.

BS: Why Colorado, and why CC? 

AO: I grew up in Telluride and have always just loved the mountains. My aunt went here and we’re really close and she told me about CC, so going into high school it was already a goal to come here if I could. So I worked really hard in school to try and get here, and that ended up working out, and I am so grateful for the experience and the challenges and the people that have welcomed me here.

I went to school for some time in Massachusetts, and the ocean is very grounding for me, and the mountains are very inspiring for me, and I have found that I love a balance of both if that’s ever possible. I feel like the mountains are my home now, and that’s where my spirit was born, so of course that’s where I want to stay.

BS: What is the most important lesson, or way of life, you think you learned from your upbringing?

AO: Every morning before I got on the bus my dad would say “be good and have fun,” and I’ve always just remembered that in the back of my head and I think that it’s a good phrase, in all the ways.

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