New Student Profile: Nathan Hall

New Student Profile: Nathan Hall

On a bright afternoon two days after the beginning of classes, first-year student Nathan Hall took some time to sit down with me outside Kroon Hall to talk about the path that has led him to FES. He was born and raised in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky.  His family has lived there since the revolutionary war. But the region has faced considerable challenges in modern times. “I’m from the most unhealthy and poorest congressional district in the US,” said Nathan. “It’s had a monolithic extractive economy for some time,” he continued, pointing out the detrimental effects this has had on both environment and economy. Growing up there, his primary goal was to escape. He moved to Louisville as a teenager, and it was there that he became aware of the protest movement developing in response to mountaintop removal mining. He got involved in the protests, but quickly became frustrated because it seemed that no one else in the movement understood the culture of rural Appalachia or had any interest in it. Nathan decided to leave the movement and become an underground coal miner, in part to gain an understanding of what it was like, and partly in order to save money to start an organization that would focus on environmental remediation in the area. He only mined for six months, however. “I got convinced to go to college by my family, who was worried I was going to get killed.” So he enrolled at Berea College, a school founded by abolitionists that still maintains a fairly radical philosophy. There, Nathan was able to design his own major and create various sustainability projects.  After he graduated, he was awarded the Watson Fellowship to travel internationally for a year. He sought out communities with environments and economic histories similar to those of eastern Kentucky, spending six months in India and then travelling throughout Eastern and Western Europe. Upon returning to the US, Nathan intended to start the organization he had been thinking about since before he attended Berea, which he had decided would focus on agroforestry as a means of providing employment and ecological restoration. But one of the people he was trying to recruit for his board instead recruited him to work for a group doing reforestation of mined areas in Appalachia.

During this time, Nathan was also involved with starting several farmers markets in eastern Kentucky. It was doing this work that he met an alum of the Yale Architecture School who suggested that Nathan also go to Yale. “What do you mean go to Yale? I can’t just go to Yale!” Nathan remembers thinking. But he started looking into it regardless. FES was appealing to him because of the flexibility of the program and the opportunity to acquire practical skills. He’s considering applying to the joint degree program with the School of Management, but in the meantime is glad that he can still take classes at SOM (FES students can take up to half of their classes at Yale’s other professional schools!).

While at FES, Nathan hopes to build his business planning and project management skills. He told me he wants to figure out how to make his ideas make financial sense. He’s also hoping to learn more about the market and policy processes that affect the viability of environmental projects. How, for example, does one influence policy makers to implement legislation that will encourage renewable energy and sustainable agriculture initiatives?

I asked Nathan what his favorite thing about FES was thus far. “It’s just a very friendly, laid-back, unpretentious community,” he said. “It was a relief to find out that it was down-to-earth.” He said this is true of both students and faculty members. He also appreciates the varied experiences of his fellow students.

After FES, Nathan said, “My plan is still to try to do this entrepreneurial hybrid… Hopefully I’ll be able to do it a lot better,” speaking of his planned restoration organization. He’s hoping to use the networking opportunities available through FES to tap into some northeastern capital for his project. He’s trying to figure out the best business model for his organization, one that would allow him to start doing on-the-ground work in Appalachia when he returns. He plans to use the skills he’ll acquire at Yale to benefit the region he had once intended only to escape. In the meantime, he is finding the northeast to be surprisingly familiar in some ways. Being in the forest during Mods, Nathan was found that the topography reminded him of Appalachia. It is, he says, “different but homey.”

Be looking out for a few more new student profiles over the next several weeks!