Franceine Welcome ’19 awarded Gilliam Fellowship
After leading a renewable energy revolution at Connecticut College, Kassie Rohrbach ’03 is leading the way nationally in environmental and social justice.
In 2004 she co-founded and then became co-director of the Energy Action Coalition, a partnership of 50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups. She helped to lead the Campus Climate Challenge, which won commitments for renewable energy and carbon reductions from 700 colleges.
Rohrbach also co-directed PowerShift 2007, the largest lobby day for climate change in Washington, D.C. at the time, and Power Vote 2008, which gathered 350,000 signatures from youth who proclaimed, “I’m voting for clean energy.”
Today she has just begun her most recent endeavor with a non-profit organization called Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (WOBO).
“I was interested in working with WOBO because I wanted to do more local organizing. You can really see the impact of your work in tangible ways, and you develop more of a foundation within your community, both of which are really important to me,” Rohrbach said.
Rohrbach graduated with a degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a Goodwin-Niering certificate in Environmental Studies and Conservation Biology. “Conn enabled me to merge those interests into an education that really has put me out into the world where I am now,” she said.
During her sophomore year, Rohrbach, together with Sarah Zisa ’03, founded the Renewable Energy Club (REC) on campus.
Rohrbach and REC organized the Renewable Energy Campaign, asking students to pay an extra $25 a year to contribute to renewable energy efforts. The answer was an overwhelming “yes,” and a year later Rohrbach helped coordinate the College's first green energy purchase.
Mab Segrest, the Fuller-Matthai Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, described Rohrbach as “bright, mature and engaged with the campus and the world.” Segrest advised Rohrbach’s senior thesis and said her work was brilliant.
“I have a huge amount of respect for her and have been really pleased to see her make her way in the world," Segrest said.
After graduating, Rohrbach continued working to improve renewable energy on college campuses. She joined the Center for Resource Solutions where she completed her Goodwin-Niering internship in the summer of 2002.
“While I worked at Center for Resource Solutions, I met the other young people working on climate and renewable energy advocacy. In 2004, we came together to found the Energy Action Coalition because we saw that we needed some real coordination across organizations and across the country on climate change. This is the challenge of our generation and in the absence of action on the part of our elected officials, we decided we needed to mobilize,” Rohrbach said.
Rohrbach just began her most recent endeavor as executive director at WOBO. “Bike to Work Day” originated in Oakland, Calif., but it took 30 years to mold this culture receptive to green transportation.
“We have all the right ingredients. The issue is finding the money in the recession. We’re fighting for every dollar we can to see improvements for pedestrians and cyclists. My vision for Oakland is to have walkable neighborhoods and a network of bike-ways that allow you to choose biking for everyday transportation, whether you are seven or eighty,” Rohrbach said.
Through all her work in the environmental and social justice sector, Rohrbach is still inspired by a poster she saw on a faculty office at Connecticut College: a quote by Audre Lorde from Sister/Outsider: Essays and Speeches, “I am a Black warrior poet doing my work – come to ask you – are you doing yours?”
“The point being, what are you doing in this world, who are you and what do you have to offer? I ask myself this when I’m working on things on a day to day basis. Am I doing what I came here to do?” Rohrbach said.
-- Meredith Boyle '13