Katie Proudman has always felt a strong connection to nature — it was embedded in her childhood.
“Both of my parents worked in conservation-related positions and sustainability was a very salient value I felt at home. It led me to attend the University of Vermont and focus on natural resources and wildlife biology as an undergrad,” she says.
Proudman realized her passion was in helping individuals and groups more than studying hard sciences, which led her to her current position as a Masters student at the University of Michigan (U-M) School of Social Work. She discovered her passion while working at Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures in Thailand as a Princeton-in-Asia Fellow. Here, she combined her love for the outdoors and the therapeutic benefits of exercise and sports.
During her time spent time exploring outdoor and experiential education programming for Southeast Asian youth, Proudman also worked in community mental health in North-Central Singapore. She’s continued this work at U-M.
“Through my experiences in environmental education, I became much more interested in human behavior and providing social-emotional resources for youth and families,” she says.
Since coming to U-M to get her masters, Proudman has focused on clinical work with children, youth, and families. In working with complex interpersonal and community-level challenges, Proudman is making an effort to consider the intersection of personal matters and large-scale sustainability issues. She’s proud of the opportunities she’s created to explore these intersections, particularly her work on issues of equity and inclusion as they relate to sustainability.
One such opportunity is the project she worked on as a Dow Sustainability Fellow. For her fellowship, Proudman and a team of students completed a project in collaboration with the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe to assess the community’s non-economic losses due to environmental stressors like climate change.
“We were assessing non-economic loss experienced by this community by climate change and other environmental stressors,” says Proudman. “These non-economic losses are rarely considered, measured, or included in policy frameworks,” says Proudman.
Non-economic losses include hard to measure costs like community and personal relationships to the environment, sense of place, traditional knowledge, and cultural practices. The project aligned with Proudman’s interests in including more diverse voices in the larger conversation of sustainability.
“These non-economic losses are rarely considered, measured, or included in policy frameworks,” says Proudman. Additionally, she says, “there have been extremely negative implications of research conducted by non-Native researchers and exploitation of Native American stories...It was important to me that we created a partnership with the Bad River community, and that our work could add value to their established efforts.”
With her interest in emotional well being, Proudman found her niche in the project by working at the intersection of mental health and the Bad River community’s relationship with the environment.
“I found incredible value in sitting with individuals and learning about their lived experiences related to these aspects,” explains Proudman.
As she is studying clinical social work, Proudman will be pursuing her clinical licensure over the next two to three years. She has a position as a Child and Family Therapist in the Seattle area.
“While there is not a direct integration of sustainability themes in this position, I feel as though it is important for me to understand behavior, interpersonal relationships, and community systems,” says Proudman. “I think that someday all of my diverse interests can come together again.”