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I Am an Environmentalist


When she first came to Otterbein University, Kristen Giesting said she was very shy. It wasn’t until a friend encouraged her to get involved on campus that Kristen began taking advantage of the many opportunities Otterbein University had to offer. 

“A friend of mine was applying for a summer research position at Otterbein and encouraged me to do the same,” Kristen said. “I am convinced that this decision completely changed the course of my time at Otterbein, and possibly, the direction of my future endeavors.”

During the summer after her first year, Kristen began doing research in the Alum Creek watershed, which runs through Otterbein’s campus. She found that a chemical called triclosan had made its way into Alum Creek’s water. Triclosan is used to kill microbes and is used in soaps. Unfortunately, (triclosan) is also an environmental contaminant and is an endocrine disruptor (a chemical that interferes with the hormone system) in many species, including humans.

“I found out that triclosan was used in our soaps on campus, and I decided to talk with the service department about changing to a triclosan-free, green seal certified alternative,” Kristen said. “After explaining the issue to them, they chose to change the soaps across campus.”

While Kristen’s research was certainly important to the ecosystem around Alum Creek, assistant professor of biology and earth science Dr. Jennifer Bennett encouraged Kristen to see the bigger picture. Triclosan is used in soaps and cleaning supplies around the world, and Kristen’s research could have a large-scale impact. 

During her second year at Otterbein, Kristen received a grant from Merck/AAAS Undergraduate Science Research Program to continue her research. She later presented her work at national conferences. 

“I have been able to present my research at the American Society for Microbiology meeting in San Francisco and in Denver,” Kristen said. “I have also presented my research poster at the International EcoSummit, which was held in Columbus, Ohio in 2012.”

When she wasn’t doing research, Kristen served as the leader of Otterbein’s environmentally conscious student organization called Plan-It Earth. She was also one of 14 finalists from Project Green Challenge, an international eco-challenge. She was flown to California to work with CEOs and students from around the world to discuss future environmentally friendly initiatives and social change. 

Kristen also studied abroad. Her sophomore year she traveled with a class to Costa Rica, visiting Arenal volcano, the cloud forest and a small sustainable farm. “It was a way to learn more about another country through a scientific lens,” she said. 

As a junior, Kristen spent three weeks in Kassel, Germany for an environmental engineering class at the University of Kassel. “I lived with a wonderful host mom and attended classes, activities and trips with a group of international students from countries like Sudan, Australia, and China,” she said.

Read more about Kristen Geisting.