Rheannon Starr ’20

Rheannon Starr at Merry Lea

Rheannon Starr, a junior from Merriam, Ind., is the first Goshen College student to combine a major in American Sign Language with sustainability studies. She is a woman of many interests who is aware of the need for interpreters with specialized vocabulary in different areas of study.

When Rheannon took the Sustainability Leadership Semester (SLS) at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College during the fall of 2018, members of her cohort had backgrounds in biology, environmental science, theology and Christian formation as well as sustainability. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the field, double majors are encouraged, as is adding a minor in another field.

Rheannon was drawn to sustainability studies partly because of the SLS. For her, it was a chance to see her home community from a new perspective since she lives just ten minutes away from Wolf Lake where Merry Lea is located.

Even though Rheannon was in familiar territory, Merry Lea’s web of connections introduced her to new places and organizations. Weekly field trips and activities aimed at building hands-on skills frequently rely on Noble County resources. The SLS students visited farms in the area and learned about the use of cover crops. They were also involved in a citizen science project through the Tippecanoe Watershed Foundation that involved testing the water in ditches and streams.

“People around here don’t talk about the environment much, so it’s been interesting to learn about people I didn’t know about in my area who are doing things for the environment,” Rheannon says.


Local knowledge was a plus for Rheannon as she and a partner planned a project for a course entitled Sustainability Problem Solving. The pair decided to organize the clean-up of a farm dump on Merry Lea’s property. They needed to communicate the value of this task to a variety of groups, not all of whom would be motivated by the same language. Rheannon was glad to be able to draw on her insight into her home area.

Other challenges the project brought with it included figuring out how to move large pieces like appliances and finding places to take materials that could be recycled. They considered recycling some of the scrap metal into a sculpture.


An aspect of the semester that suited Rheannon well was the many chances for dialog with people with differing perspectives—both her fellow students and people encountered on field trips.

“One of the reasons I went to Goshen College was to be challenged. What’s the fun in going to a college where you think like everyone else?” she asks. She was often able to provide a counterpoint to discussions, bringing out ideas that were unique to her. She says the SLS helped her view others’ ideas as alternate perspectives, not threats.

“We’re actually not that much at odds. There’s a lot of middle ground. We can collaborate and live in peace with one another,” Rheannon reflects.