Kayte Meola ‘90 is a sociologist, researcher, and educator focused on gender, agriculture, and natural resource management in international development.
At Northland, she studied outdoor education with a focus on naturalist studies, then worked as a forest ranger, raft guide, wilderness and international community service trip leader, and environmental educator.
Because of her interest in writing, she earned a master in environmental studies focusing on communications at Antioch New England Graduate School in Keene, New Hampshire.
And that led her on a different kind of journey.
“I did a practicum with Rodale Research Center in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala where I wrote about the work of a sustainable agriculture project,” she said.
There, she discovered a passion for exploring how society and nature intersect. “I saw first-hand how structural forces compelled people to cut and burn the forest out of necessity, not out of malice or even lack of concern for nature.”
She met an anthropologist working with local indigenous women “and this appealed to me greatly, but I didn’t have the training to pursue that line of work at the time.”
To get that training, she earned her PhD from Cornell University Development Sociology Department and did her fieldwork in the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve in Amazonas, Brazil, a place touted as a model of participatory conservation where the local inhabitants co-managed the natural resources.
She later took a position as a researcher at the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, integrating gender into agricultural research projects to ensure that both men and women benefited from project outcomes and to help biological researchers leading these projects to better understand how gender relations impact the success of their projects.
She currently works as a consultant with the Inter-American Development Bank, doing similar work to advocate for gender in development loans for environmental projects throughout Latin America.
In addition to her research and consulting work, she’s discovering new ways to empower women, while recapturing the physicality that brought her so much joy in her twenties.
She returned to raft guiding last summer after having been away from it for twenty years.
One day I was pushing rubber down the Potomac River in a complete deluge during the morning—then changed my clothes in the parking lot and headed into Washington DC for a meeting in the afternoon.
Two-plus years ago, she signed up for karate with her two children, then added kickboxing to her routine, and is testing for her black belt in March while she also trains in self-defense and weapons.
“My karate master sometimes talks about the warrior attitude of a Black Belt, how traditionally warriors would keep fighting to the death,” Meola said. “To translate that into contemporary training terms, he talks about how even if you’re tired, or possibly even somewhat injured, you shout louder and try harder, but never give up.”
Meola next plans to integrate this can-do attitude with her passion for martial arts and her professional work of empowering women through fostering this attitude in others, especially women and girls in the developing countries where she works.
“When I think back on all those outdoor trips with Northland, many of which tested my courage and stamina,” she said. “They taught many of the same ‘warrior’ lessons—the importance of being able to put one foot in front of the other and keep going, even when you are tired, cold, hungry or scared. Even when you think you can’t.”