Ethyl Ruehman of Portage, Indiana, is a student at Indiana University Northwest, and was named an Environmental Hero by the Indiana Resilience Institute in 2020.
What did you do after graduating from high school?
I had a gap year and that is where I was able to do the most personal growth. The whole time I worked two or three jobs, but I really honed in on my passion for sustainability that set me apart from my classmates. I really put myself into the community, volunteered, and grew my network that helped me meet and talk to industry and political leaders.
What are you doing to prepare yourself for a career?
I am earning a degree from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) program. I chose IU Northwest because after my gap year, it was really important to me to stay in my community [and] it is such a critical institution that provides many resources and opportunities to the area. I have to admit I was initially worried that it wouldn’t have the same resources other campuses had, but this campus is so student- centered and has invested in many resources to help the students stay in school, I feel extremely fortunate to be able to go here.
Why the environment?
The environment became an important cause for me because I am half Filipino. When I visited the Philippines, I saw first-hand what it is like for rural communities in third world countries. I had breathed air that was so polluted by diesel, among many other things, that I was coughing up black “stuff” within the first 30 minutes of landing. It was no longer an issue I read about or happening to animals that I’ve never seen before. It was something that was affecting my cousins and that has a visible impact on the Filipino population. Coming home to where I lived in America, recognizing my privilege and then realizing that it was happening right here (the lead crisis, coal ash ponds, deforestation, dumping, etc.) was what made me realize that it starts in our own communities and helped me decide to stay here and start making a difference.
I think leading by example and developing our own unique culture is important to living out our values, and helping young people become community leaders.”
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future change every week! I definitely want to help build and foster a community for resilience and regeneration. I think leading by example and developing our own unique culture is important to living out our values, and helping young people become community leaders. That is my immediate future. My dream for the more distant future would be working for World Heritage Sites or the United Nations… or maybe just simply gardening in a community (hopefully one that I helped develop) where I can bike everywhere I need to go.