Alumna Susanna Dart is testing science and sustainability on the global stage.
Northern Arizona University alumna Susanna Dart—like many students and recent graduates living abroad—struggled with an initial bolt of panic when the global pandemic struck. Residing in Lancaster in the United Kingdom, she lost her primary job and worried about the deepening crisis. She considered an emergency flight back to the United States.
However, she “had a good cry, went for a run, ate some chocolate, and then called a neighbor to ask for some advice,” she shared in an article she wrote for FRANKly, the German Fulbright Association magazine. “Within hours I had a temporary job in my sector, an offer for dinner, a food parcel on my doorstep, a share of a garden plot and a selection of seed bank seeds to plant there, and several supportive calls and messages from neighbors.”
The moment spoke to both Dart’s perseverance and the strength of the community for which she serves. The 2014 NAU graduate, who studied Biology and German through Global Languages as a dual major, has led as one of six directors at Lancaster Cohousing, a multi-award winning, intergenerational, eco-cohousing community of around 70 members in northwestern England.
She added, “When the pandemic hit the UK, we were already practiced in working together and supporting each other and were able to spring into action. We quickly set up an emergency Covid-19 team to handle our community response. Because of prior networking, we were also able to reach out to other local and international cohousing groups to share best practices and challenges as we adapted our way of living.”
Living in an intentional community with Lancaster Cohousing combines her passion for climate science and climate solutions. Dart’s postgraduate studies at Lancaster University were in environment and development, with a focus on human geography and soil chemistry. Her latest primary professional role is with Climate Emergency UK, where she works “with civil servants, climate activists, and concerned citizens around public policy for living with resilience in a changing climate.”
Dart’s living and working life continue to be influenced by her initial studies and efforts while a student at NAU. She significantly excelled in her academics, becoming a 2014 NAU Gold Axe recipient for outstanding contributions in academics and landing a coveted Fulbright Scholarship, aided by her two programs—Biology and German. She also served as the German Club president and as secretary for Beta Beta Beta Biology Honor Society during her time at NAU.
“I think having the dual major was so critical,” Dart said of how her undergraduate work helped her accomplishments later. “Your network’s twice as big. So even though the internship I had in Germany was a STEM internship, the person who helped me apply for it was my German professor, Marilya Veteto Reese.”
Dart added, “And having the German degree helped me get my Fulbright Scholarship, which brought me to Germany and later to England. Also, professionally, the scientific community is an international community, so it is really helpful to start building your international network early. For me, learning another language gave me a greater vocabulary for understanding myself and helped give me a different set of skills that supported my STEM competencies and has really been beneficial for my career.”
Along with the scholarship and opportunity, Dart said she gained invaluable experiences as a student studying overseas. “That study abroad year was so important for personal development because it allowed me to step back from everything I thought I knew. I was able to look at everything from a different perspective.”
That study abroad year was so important for personal development because it allowed me to step back from everything I thought I knew. I was able to look at everything from a different perspective.
And Dart continues to thrive overseas while achieving her greatest ambitions in how she lives and works.
“My current interest here is in exploring how we live together as a society with a lower environmental impact,” she said. “And it’s interesting to do that abroad in a place like Lancaster Cohousing. We all live in our own rented or private-owned Passivhaus (energy-efficient) homes, but we have shared spaces and resources like a common house, car club, and grocery store. We also run our own district heating system and our own electric company, and many of the decisions are made here based on how we can lower the collective environmental impact.”
She added, “Considering environmental issues on a micro-community level helps support the wider community, and it is making us better together.”