By Richard Zagrzecki
Sujata Gautam admires how Native Americans appreciate and care for the earth.
That respect came from her time visiting several reservations and talking to people from different tribes while participating in Northern Arizona University's Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program.
"Hearing them talk about their people, way of life, and being able to read poems that their ancestors wrote was such an awe-inspiring experience," said Gautam, a civil and environmental engineering sophomore at the University of Houston. "I literally could just feel the deep appreciation of the earth that these people had resonating from these poems."
So when the UH Office of Sustainability announced it was holding a poetry contest as part of its annual Sustainability Fest, Gautam used her experience with the Native American tribes as inspiration.
Of the 12 entries received, Gautam's "The People that Loved the Land" came in first place, earning her a $50 gift card. In addition, she was able to read her poem on stage during the Sustainability Fest, which was held Dec. 3 in Lynn Eusan Park. Two entries tied for second place: Laura Lee's "Tomorrow" and Katie White's "I Sought Enlightenment in the Manner of my Ancestors." They also received $50 gift cards. All the poems are posted on the Office of Sustainability's website.
Sarah Kelly, program manager for the UH Office of Sustainability, said the contest was judged by members of the Sustainability Fest coordination team who used a point-based system to determine the winners.
"The talented writers who submitted their poems did not make it easy on the judges," she said. "We all had a poem that resonated with us. It was clear that they put thought into what they were writing about and really delved into sustainable thinking. I hope the contestants got as much out of the writing process as we did reading their poetry."
Gautam said her poem asks if there are still people who love the land today as much as the people in the past had loved it.
"If there are people who still feel such a deep appreciation for the earth today, the poem encourages them to inspire others to feel the same sense of wonder and beauty toward the earth they inhabit," she said.
She said she is very interested in sustainability-related issues and intends to focus her career path on sustainability after earning a master's degree in environmental engineering. She is particularly interested in waste and wastewater management as well as creating sustainable communities and cities.
"In addition, I am very intrigued by the concept of sustainability by design," Gautam said. "There is definitely a lot that awaits in the future."