NEWS Independent Spirit Rower Vanessa Gerber Follows Her Environmental Passion To Oxford

BERKELEY - When faced with one of the tough­est deci­sions she’ll ever have to make in life, Vanessa Ger­ber burst out laughing.

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That’ll hap­pen when you can’t go wrong with what­ever deci­sion you ulti­mately make.

Ger­ber, who received her degree last spring in Con­ser­va­tion and Resource Stud­ies and was a four-​​year mem­ber of Cal’s women’s crew, had the rare and once-​​in-​​a-​​lifetime oppor­tu­nity of choos­ing between grad­u­ate pro­grams at both Oxford and Cam­bridge – two of the most pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties on the planet.

Both times I found out I was by myself in the CRS lab work­ing on my research, check­ing my e-​​mail to get data,” Ger­ber said. “When I got the (accep­tance let­ter) from Cam­bridge, I started cry­ing. Peo­ple were look­ing at me won­der­ing what was going on. When I got the one from Oxford, I just kind of started laugh­ing. I just thought, ‘this can’t be real.’”

It was very real, thanks to the aca­d­e­mic accom­plish­ments Ger­ber forged dur­ing her time in Berke­ley. A Pac-​​12 All-​​Academic selec­tion with a 3.78 GPA, Ger­ber also was one of three recip­i­ents of the Oscar Geballe Post­grad­u­ate Schol­ar­ship – a $5,000 stipend given to a student-​​athlete who com­bines schol­ar­ship with inter­col­le­giate competition.

Ger­ber ended up choos­ing Oxford, where she will enroll in the university’s Master’s in Envi­ron­men­tal Change and Man­age­ment pro­gram. She also intends to con­tinue her row­ing career on the Oxford women’s crew.

It’s both unbe­liev­able and not unbe­liev­able at the same time,” said Gerber’s mother, Jes­sica. “Ever since nurs­ery school, Vanessa came into this world with a focus. I’ve never seen any­thing like it. We used to joke that if you want some­thing done, just ask Vanessa.”

Gerber’s path to Oxford was aided by Cal pro­fes­sor Daniel Kam­men, one of the lead­ing energy schol­ars in the world. She was inspired after tak­ing Kammen’s class, Energy and Soci­ety, and decided to make that area of study the focal point of her col­lege course load. Ger­ber ended up opt­ing into the Col­lege of Nat­ural Resources Hon­ors Research Pro­gram, doing a year­long the­sis on the envi­ron­men­tal impact of the Chevron oil refin­ery in Richmond.

Kam­men became Gerber’s advi­sor for the the­sis and helped her make the deci­sion between grad­u­ate schools. Kam­men has affil­i­a­tions with both Oxford and Cambridge.

She was very will­ing to learn things she hadn’t done in class,” Kam­men said. “If there was some­thing she needed to learn for her the­sis, there wasn’t a lot of hem­ming and haw­ing. She has an inde­pen­dent spirit. If she wants to do it, she does it.”

Ger­ber grew up with a love of the out­doors and con­cern for the envi­ron­ment, but it wasn’t until she took Energy and Soci­ety that she became truly com­mit­ted to mak­ing that area of acad­e­mia her pas­sion. Stu­dents in the class range from under­grad­u­ates to Ph.D. stu­dents, and it focuses on sus­tain­able energy.

The class really helped me see the con­nec­tion between energy use, vol­ume and types of fuels that we use, and cli­mate issues,” Ger­ber said. “As a soci­ety, we need energy as human beings. We’re never going to not need energy. We also only have one planet. My pas­sion is pro­tect­ing the planet and the envi­ron­ment by using the most sus­tain­able forms of energy. Mak­ing that con­nec­tion between energy and cli­mate really sparked some­thing in me.”

Ger­ber spent last sum­mer as an intern for the San Fran­cisco Bay Chap­ter of the Sierra Club and was exposed to the intri­ca­cies of refin­ery reg­u­la­tion. So despite the demands of crew and fin­ish­ing up her major, Ger­ber added the hon­ors research pro­gram to her work­load to find out more about the impact the Chevron refin­ery is hav­ing on the local community.

Tech­ni­cally, I had room in my sched­ule,” she said.

Ger­ber will start the pro­gram at Oxford in the fall, but before that she is spend­ing her sec­ond sum­mer as an intern for the U.S. For­est Ser­vice at the Spot­ted Bear Ranger Dis­trict in Hun­gry Horse, Mon­tana. Ger­ber works on the trails crew, clear­ing downed trees and mak­ing sure hik­ing trails are kept in good order.

Ger­ber did a sim­i­lar intern­ship fol­low­ing her sopho­more year at Cal.

It was a totally unique expe­ri­ence,” Ger­ber said. “It’s some­thing I would do for free. It was a total con­trast from my every day here. I lit­er­ally walked every­where for two-​​and-​​a-​​half months.”

Ger­ber started out as a soc­cer player but took up row­ing for her junior year of high school. She had watched her older sis­ter, Nina, com­pete in row­ing since she was in mid­dle school and had taken one row­ing camp pre­vi­ously, but had been immersed in club soc­cer. Before her junior year at the Marin Acad­emy in San Rafael, she attended another row­ing camp. Now more famil­iar with the sport and some of Nina’s team­mates, it didn’t take long for her to give up the soc­cer pitch for the water.

I played so many sports, and row­ing is such a unique sport,” Ger­ber said. “The syn­chronic­ity is just so ampli­fied from any other expe­ri­ence on any other team I have had before. And just the feel­ing of row­ing is so unique. Not often do we get to be on water. We see water, but we’re land crea­tures. It’s fun to feel that sensation.”

Ger­ber took some recruit­ing trips to a few schools on the East Coast but noth­ing could top her expe­ri­ence at Cal.

She’d come back from vis­its on the East Coast and say they were nice, but noth­ing like her visit at Cal,” Jes­sica Ger­ber said. “She said it was like she found her people.”

Like so many Cal alums – student-​​athlete or oth­er­wise – Ger­ber hopes to be a regent for change and make a pro­found impact on the com­mu­nity, both local and larger. After she com­pletes the pro­gram at Oxford, she has designs on work­ing for an agency that makes a mea­sure of dif­fer­ence in sus­tain­able energy.

It’s not about being the front per­son or head­liner, but play­ing a part in change,” Ger­ber said. “I def­i­nitely think that’s my quest in my life, in my aca­d­e­mics. It’s what I care most about. It doesn’t have to be the biggest change, but I want that over any­thing else.

I’m not nec­es­sar­ily aspir­ing to be pres­i­dent or sit on the U.N. … I mean, maybe.”

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