Alumnus Profile: Allie Quady | WSSS | Tufts University

Alumnus Profile: Allie Quady

by Libby Mahaffy

In December 2010, Allie Quady (N09) spoke to TIE intern Libby Mahaffy from her Central California home about her experiences in WSSS and the Friedman School. Allie is now Program Director at Eco Farm.

Libby Mahaffy is a graduate of the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) program (G11) and an intern at the Tufts Institute of the Environment.

Learn more about Allie here.

Libby Mahaffy: What brought you to the WSSS program?
Allie Quady: I've always gravitated towards cross-disciplinary learning and I wanted to take the opportunity to work with students from different parts of Tufts. Friedman is really great for the specific field of nutrition, but it's also very small – getting outside of it felt really good. Out of curiosity I started going to WSSS meetings and pretty quickly was pulled into it.

I grew up in the Central Valley [of California], but then I found myself in Boston studying agriculture and reading papers about the drought back home! I have known about the drought ever since I was a kid, but I had never actually taken the opportunity to learn about water resources or managing water risk in an academic setting. 

At Tufts, a lot of the WSSS students are engineers, so they are looking at such technical details -- it's refreshing, frustrating, and challenging all the same time! It's frustrating because I'm not an engineer (laughs) but at same time it's really refreshing to talk with people who are focusing on direct solutions: here's the problem, this is what we're going to do about it. At Friedman we learn about agricultural science and policy: soil science, crop science, and water management; policies and strategies. Our focus is broad: it's not about the numbers or the models. It's good to be exposed to how engineers think and work.

It seems that at your core you’re a very interdisciplinary person. Tell me about your research at Tufts.
My research happened mostly because of Paul Kirshen, the [former] director of the WSSS program. I was looking for some kind of funding and there wasn't anything in my program. It's not very romantic, but I think it's true for a lot of graduate students. I was coming from an agricultural science and policy background and WSSS, and Paul and I decided to do this work on Cryptosporidium [an intestinal parasite often spread through contaminated water], which the vet school has a lot of expertise on. I ended up working with Saul Tzipori [from the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Cummings]. He had a project looking at a better way of detecting Cryptosporidium in wastewater. This was a pretty new field for me coming in. I had worked on farms and worked as an extension agent in the Peace Corps but I had never really been a scientist before – I had a Literary Studies degree in undergrad. So I was really starting at square one and it was a very steep learning curve, all of the technical details and the precision that goes into a project like that -- you need to run the same tests and be very precise about it.

How are you using what you learned at Tufts in what you're doing now?
Straight out of grad school I went to work for CCOF (the oldest organic certifier in California) as a certifier. Now I work at the Ecological Farming Association as their program director. I'm really enjoying my job; I started in September. Im working on a big sustainable agriculture conference, the biggest one on the West Coast, called the Eco Farm Conference. My job is to make sure it happens! This has little to do with water science, but it is another big project that I'm being asked to jump into. The challenges I was presented with in grad school helped me to not balk at taking on a project that is really new to me.

This summer I'm going to be going out on the road doing water workshops in California with our project partners. That'll be really exciting, working with the Community Alliance for Family Farmers, California Farm Link, and maybe someone from NRDF (Natural Resources Defense Fund). We have a grant for risk management that funds a lot of projects on water risk. Being in California is exciting for me because this is such a diverse agricultural state; it's a very dynamic environment. It's good to be here.

I got this job because of a friend at Tufts [who] knew somebody at Eco-Farm and put in a good word for me. I've always heard that it's all about networking and I've never been a particularly good networker, but this has definitely made me a believer! It's just about keeping in touch with your friends and reaching out. A lot of people who graduated from Tufts are doing amazing things; were lucky to be part of that community. I'm grateful for that and all the opportunities that I had when I was there, but I am very happy to not be in school!

If WSSS was a Jelly Belly, what flavor would it be?
Not a hot flavor – more like berry or orange. Not spicy hot because I didn't feel like there was a lot of controversy – I feel like we all got along. Everybody knows that water is a problem, so it makes complete sense to devote time to understanding the issues and coming to your own conclusions about how we need to tackle it. You can't say “No” to an orange Jelly Belly– it’s the flavor that everybody likes!

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The Water: Systems, Science and Society (WSSS) program is a graduate research and education program that provides Tufts students with interdisciplinary perspectives and tools to manage water-related problems around the world.

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