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Larissa Holland ’20: ‘I’m One Person ... There’s a Lot I Can Do’
Larissa Holland ’20 says she came to Smith with a “natural passion” for the outdoors. “My mother works in a greenhouse,” she explains, “and I was always interested in environmental science and policy. But as a first-generation college student, I was insecure expressing that academically.”
But all of that’s changed over her four years at Smith. As she looks ahead to graduation, Holland says she’s developed the confidence and the critical skills to turn her natural enthusiasm into a career fighting for climate justice.
A fourth-generation seasonal laborer, and the first in her family to attend college, Holland grew up in the “super-small town” of Jonesboro, Maine. Her father, a scallop and lobster fisherman, died when she was in eighth grade, and although she excelled in school, her family “just didn’t have the bandwidth” to think about things like summer camp and college, she says.
But then, in ninth grade, she discovered Upward Bound, a national program that helps prepare talented high school students for college. Two Upward Bound summers at Bowdoin College, followed by a program-sponsored tour of the Five Colleges during the summer before her senior year, introduced Holland to Smith.
“As soon as I stepped onto the Smith campus during my tour,” she says, “I was completely consumed. There were so many leadership opportunities, and all of those positions were held by gender-minority individuals. And, because it was summer, the botanic-scapes were really beautiful.”
She called her mom after the tour was over, and reported, “I don’t know how, but I’m going to Smith.”
Holland applied early decision, and was thrilled to be accepted, but it wasn’t until her financial aid letter arrived that she knew she’d be able to attend. Smith’s package--which included a Smith College grant, a Pell grant and other awards, combined with a national Dell Scholarship—was “beyond generous,” she says.
Her four years at Smith have been “beautiful and busy,” she laughs. Drawn to environmental science, but initially unsure about an ESP major, she first found co-curricular outlets for her environmental passion. She served as the sustainability chair for the Student Government Association, then was elected to the college’s Board on Sustainability. As a junior, she was one of just 55 students in the U.S. to receive a prestigious Udall Scholarship, recognizing scholarship, leadership and a commitment to a career in the environment. A Smith special studies course, along with summer internships, allowed her to research the college’s innovative Farmington Solar Collaboration and study the impact of solar energy on local communities in her native state of Maine.
“It was incredible to be able to pair my Smith education with a real-world issue that’s very personal to me,” Holland notes. “I learned what it means for project leaders to make trade-offs while working toward energy democracy and social justice.”
This experience led naturally to Holland’s first job after Smith: At the end of June, she’ll begin work as a project development fellow with Resonant Energy, a Boston-based community energy provider that partners with under-invested communities.
“Smith has given me confidence in transforming my passion, my interest and my very strong moral code into something practical,” she says. “I’m entering a career in which I can use all of the skills I have in the service of something I believe in. And I’ve built a solid network of incredibly talented people who will continue to be in my corner long after I graduate.
“The world will continue to face climate challenges,” Holland notes. “And I’m only one person. But with the skills I’ve gained, and the support of the people I’ve met at Smith, there’s a lot that I can do.”