Water Blogged

Is local service a gateway to global citizenship? Ask Emily Crossette.

Posted by Nick Coughlin on June 14, 2019

When Emily Crossette joined H2O for Life as an incoming high school student at Abington Senior High in Pennsylvania, it seemed like a cool thing to do. The advisor was energetic, the group was involved in a lot of activities, and the club offered the opportunity to meet area water conservation leaders. Crossette never dreamed that H2O for Life would be the impetus for her future educational and career goals.

Crossette majored in civil and environmental engineering and minored in environmental science at Lafayette College and is now completing her PhD in environmental engineering at the University of Michigan. After graduation, she hopes to use her knowledge and skills in microbial ecology to improve resource recovery from waste streams like wastewater and manure.


“H2O for Life really pushed me to do water research when I got to college, and that further motivated me to pursue environmental engineering research in graduate school,” says Crossette.

Service Learning at the Local and National Level

Crossette’s experiences with H2O for Life went far beyond typical service learning activities. Locally, Crossette organized watershed cleanups, raised money to support water projects for partner schools in the developing world, and trained other students to start H2O for Life clubs at water summits her group developed and implemented.  But that was just the beginning of Crossette’s service learning experiences. She also was a featured speaker at the 2010 World Water Day Celebration at the National Geographic Institute and the 2009 and 2010 National Service Learning Conference.

It was through H2O for Life’s service learning activities that Crossette gained a broader understanding of global water issues, she says.

“Service learning is an awareness opportunity,” she explains. “It introduces people to how complex global water issues are. It’s really valuable, because we think we can serve communities based on our experiences, but our experiences are very limited.”

An Ongoing Commitment to Service

After high school, Crossette’s passion for environmental and water concerns—and being of service to others—was stronger than ever. Not only did she major in environmental studies, she also continued to teach about global water issues. Through the Lafayette College Society of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, she became involved with a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) summer camp for local students. Crossette made water the camp’s central theme and used her experiences with H2O for Life as well as resources on the H2O for Life website to create fun, instructional activities for the campers. They ranged from painting rain barrels to exploring the amount of fresh water relative to saltwater on the earth.

Crossette played a central role in the camp for three years. She planned activities and worked with the campers her first year, she ran the camp her second year, and she served on its student advisory board her third year. The camp was so successful parents emailed staff long in advance to ensure their child would be able to attend.

Now that Crossette is in graduate school, she’s taken her commitment to service in another direction: she volunteers at an after-school program for children in the area who are homeless or transitioning from homelessness. It’s an experience that gives her insights into another important field.

“I’m learning more now about educational organizations and outreach programs,” she says. “I’m very proud of the work I led and did with H2O for Life, but there’s a whole world of research and application for improving access to education here in the U.S.”

Inspiration that Lasts a Lifetime

Crossette says a number of mentors helped mold her and instill a commitment to service to others. First and foremost are her parents, who were, and continue to be, actively involved in community service. Crossette also says her undergraduate advisor, Dr. Arthur Kney, not only involved her in research but helped put her in touch with the right people when he learned she was interested in water. And finally, there’s Mary Rodgers, her high school H2O for Life Club leader, whom she credits with encouraging her to reach far beyond her initial goals.

“Mary Rodgers had an impressive energy and excitement and drive to push us to do things we thought were crazy,” Crossette says.

The Future of a Global Citizen

Crossette’s future is bright and contains all the elements she cares about: improving the environment and serving others. While working as an environmental engineer, she also plans to stay involved in other global issues. One area she’s committed to is that of government funding for research in education access and public health—issues she says are partially related to water and women’s rights.

Through H2O for Life’s service learning programs, Crossette says she learned that such issues aren’t isolated but affect all of us.

“H2O for Life and service learning made me more of a global citizen, which has made me a better local citizen,” she says.

If you want to help inspire more local service and global citizenship at a school near you, contact Danielle today.

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