Fearless: Jessie Pierce

A vocal advocate for socio-environmental justice issues and a believer in the potential for social change in the developing world, Jessie Pierce ’14 fearlessly travels, volunteers, and researches to promote awareness and change. Studying abroad last year for both semesters, spending one semester in Denmark and one in India, gave Jessie the interest, skills, and drive to continue pursuing a deeper understanding of these issues while at Gettysburg. 

Jessie has seemingly devoted her senior year to socio-environmental justice issues in serving with the Painted Turtle Farm and the Gleaning Project of South Central PA, all the while using the research she conducted in India on the effectiveness of implementing ethanol stovetops in rural villages for her thesis. 

Last winter, Jessie left for India a month before her program started in order to conduct research with two Gettysburg professors, Dr. Monica Ogra and Dr. Rutherford Platt, for an NGO called Project Gaia Incorporated. Project Gaia is an international organization that works with communities in developing nations to provide cookstoves and tools. 

“Energy-poor developing countries,” Jessie explains, “and especially refugee camps and poor villages, often have no other energy source than using open fires in unventilated huts. The smoke from that causes respiratory issues, and even collecting firewood for the fires can be dangerous—even deadly if the village is in a place with tigers or elephants. It also leads to gender violence, especially in refugee camps, since women are usually the ones collecting the wood and standing over the stoves.” 

One of the innovative ways that Project Gaia has found to combat these issues is to introduce an ethanol-fueled Clean Cook stove. The device is small—about one square foot in size—is solely run by ethanol, and concentrates all the heat on one area of the stove top, making it easier for people to stay safe and not get burned. “I mean, really, I want one for my dorm,” says Jessie.

Jessie Makes Chai

 The stove also serves as a pathway for socio-economic equality in needing to install, find, or create local ethanol sources or distillery systems in the community. Jessie’s research for her Independent Study Project abroad came from introducing a rural community to the Clean Cook stove and asking the villagers, after they’d cooked with it, whether they thought they’d like to replace fire-building with the ethanol stove. Jessie is using this research back on campus to write her senior thesis which she will be presenting to Project Gaia at the end of the year as a way for the organization to decide whether or not it will expand its mission into India starting with the same community Jessie visited.

While back on campus this year, Jessie has found ways to affect socio-environmental change by serving with the Painted Turtle Farm and the Gleaning Project. “The Gleaning Project,” says Jessie, “involves harvesting completely edible but skipped-over produce on farms and orchards. When it’s time to harvest, a farmer will only go through the orchard once, picking all of the ripened fruit, and leaving all the unripe fruit. The problem is that nobody ever goes back for the newly ripened, perfectly fine fruit a few weeks later.”

The fruits and vegetables harvested with the Gleaning Project are then donated to organizations like the Food Pantry and Campus Kitchens as a way to provide inexpensive (or free) healthy food to people for whom it’s normally too expensive to buy. “It’s basically what I want to do with the rest of my life,” says Jessie.

Whether abroad or at home, conducting research or gleaning, Jessie Pierce continues to fearlessly serve the community by advocating for social change, working with organizations that tackle systemic problems in innovative ways, and using her passion to inspire those around her.