Valiant Sustainability Educator
By Sarah Hodges
Sometimes we can detect a moment in our lives when the earth beneath our feet seems to speak through us, resonating its message through our body, to our mind, into our soul. We can feel the inner guidance speaking life into our path. Krista Hiser, a beloved Nia teacher at Still & Moving Center since our founding, shares how this kind of experience led her towards what she can honestly call her DREAM job.
“As I walked over the Mānoa Valley stream one evening in 2002, surrounded by a gentle misting rain and light wind, I felt suddenly suffused with a ‘body-knowing,” Krista reflects. “I gasped, sensing that something massive was happening to the planet. The knowing hit me as if saying: Everything must change. Nature filled me with a knowledge that environmental changes are happening even more rapidly than scientists dare to predict.”
Krista walked away from this experience at the stream with an inextinguishable sense of responsibility for affecting positive environmental change. How she could accomplish this task from the universe she did not know – until recently, this summer, when seemingly out of the blue, she landed the job of her dreams.
“A transformative learning experience cannot be undone,” Krista explains.
Krista, who was a new professor at Kapi’olani Community College at that time (and remains affiliated with this community college in Honolulu), felt her teaching style drastically change after that day at the Mānoa Valley stream. “I read everything I could about climate change, bought one of the first generation hybrid cars, and got much more into sustainability,” Krista recalls. As an English teacher, she found a way to shift her classes into sustainability-based topics for writing, to which her students were very receptive.
Krista’s path to this ideal job brought no accidents. And to fully comprehend the significance of what she felt and “heard” at the stream, you must understand a little bit about how her life pivoted at that instance. Although she felt drawn to research how young people understand climate change, there was no environmental psychology program at the time, so she ended up taking her Ph.D. in Educational Administration, which turned out – in retrospect – to be the perfect degree for her. The University later hired Krista to introduce a system to help UH faculty across all ten campuses to include sustainability and climate change information in all academic disciplines. She designed an Academic Subject Certificate in Sustainability as an option for all undergraduate students.
Her 2009 dissertation had taken a deep look into the question: “What do college students know, think and feel about climate change?” Krista expanded the same study through the UH System Office of Sustainability in 2018, replicating the research across eight University of Hawaii campuses. This became known as the “Worry and Hope Study”. Nowadays we hear about ‘climate-anxiety’ and ‘eco-anxiety’ a lot, but academics used to be “just big brains sitting on desks!” Krista explains, “Ours was one of the early studies showing the latent emotional mind frame of students, with five predominant emotions: anger, fear, sadness, shame, and hope.” She was both distressed and motivated to discover that the most common emotion towards climate change amongst students was fear.
During her Ph.D. program, she was simultaneously training for her Nia Black Belt. The values of Nia intertwined with her approach to sustainability work. Her movement practice informed her professional practice. In Nia, she learned to explore the emotional realm, which she creatively interwove with her academic work. She understood from Nia how when a person is in fear, they are inhibited from learning at all. Nia focuses on JOY – and Krista wondered, ‘where is the value of Joy in academics?’ She played with this overlap of academics, Joy, and movement while doing her research on the emotional component of learning. The combination helped her to glean that we need to approach climate change on a different level than the rational mind or the reptilian brain can get to when paralyzed by fear! Nia deals with CHOICE and neuroplasticity, so we as human beings can always choose our response to any situation.
“Nia played a significant part in my pathless path,” tells Krista. Nia training is not just for teaching movement, it’s also for personal development. It guides us to “Heed the mandate of Spirit.” With this courage-infusing mantra, she continued to listen deeply to that message she received in Mānoa Valley. She just kept on “keepin’ on”, listening to and addressing that question of “How are today’s youth responding to calamitous climate change, and how can we support them?” Krista admits with a chuckle, “Without my Nia practice and community, I would have been more of a mind-heavy academic.” Instead, she went to the level of deep feeling, from which she felt impelled to act.
“I’ve also had the privilege of working personally with Debbie Rosas, co-Founder of Nia, who is so receptive to mandates from Spirit and listening to the voices of the body, mind, and spirit. Debbie is an exemplar of listening to her intuition. So Nia and the Nia way of learning also prepared me for this new job.”
This summer, in the middle of a year-long sabbatical, Krista noticed a job opening for “Senior Advisor & Lead for Sustainability Education” at the Global Council for Science and the Environment (GCSE), a non-profit, non-partisan council in Washington DC. The nonprofit works with federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and higher education researchers. In her new job and life mission, Krista will lead a fresh initiative for sustainability education. When she saw the job, she felt like: “Oh! I’ve been waiting for you, without knowing it.”
“All I did,” marvels Krista, “was to effortlessly follow the question that had grabbed me, developing a network of other people following the same question. I had space to notice when this job posting crossed my path. I did notice it and I had the relationships in place to say, “Hey I think I’m this person you’re looking for!” Her new colleagues obviously agree.
Did you know there are now 1000 environmental and sustainability programs in American colleges and universities that currently share no common standards? Krista’s new job arises out of that surprising fact, and she will seek to remedy that problem. Her job will develop and promote a shared learning framework to a community-led accreditation pathway for such programs throughout the country and globe – and this work will be implemented with a “JEDI” mindset towards climate Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
Krista is particularly keen on developing a ‘Head/Heart/Hands’ competency for students in the fields of climate change, food, energy, and water. This approach is still quite new to higher education. “We have to recognize kinesthetic intelligence, meaning we have to get out in the environment and do something. Sustainability professors won’t be allowed to just sit in an air-conditioned classroom – they’ll have to take their students out to Waikiki and see the signs of rising sea levels. They have to work in the forest with the invasive Albizia trees. It’s got to be integrative to be truly educational. And hasn’t Nia trained me well for that approach?!?”
Krista has transitioned to a “professional leave of absence” with the support of Kapi’olani Community College. “Everything I was doing at the UH system to get sustainability into the whole curriculum, system-wide, was a smaller vision of what I’m being asked to do now. Everything I did was leading up to this job…in an almost magical way,” she muses.
Krista sums it all up: “Basically, I’m in awe of where all of my life choices have taken me – to a job where I can affect professors and students around the country and the globe to more effectively address climate change. WOW. I’m in awe.”
We, as her friends at Still & Moving, are SO inspired by Krista’s courage to follow her own inner ‘knowing’. We feel thrilled to watch her ask her driving questions, and follow her thread of life choices that she can share with our coming generations.
Thanks for taking us along, dancing through life, Krista!
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)