Paul Mailhot-Singer ’21

Major: Religious Studies

Profession: TerraCorps Service Member with the Housatonic Valley Association

Hometown: New York, NY

What are you doing now?

I’m currently completing a TerraCorps service year with the Housatonic Valley Association. HVA is a regional conservation organization based out of Northwest Connecticut committed to protecting and restoring the Housatonic watershed. Our land team is positioned at the helm of the Greenprint Collaborative, a partnership of 32 land trusts seeking to protect a climate corridor running through the region. As part of our Follow the Forest Initiative, we aim to protect and connect core forests and promote the safe passage of wildlife throughout the Northeast—from New Jersey to the forests of Canada.

My work centers around Follow the Forest, a nascent vision that can unite communities against the ever-looming threat of forest fragmentation. From writing blog posts to training volunteers, I am finding new ways to engage land trusts, donors and the public in our work. I created an exercise that allows volunteers to assess road crossings where wildlife gets funneled at pinch points. These are areas of particular importance because, if further developed, they could disproportionally restrict movement where other migratory routes have already been compromised. Crowdsourcing helps us set conservation priorities while getting people thinking critically about habitat connectivity and ways wildlife must adapt to man-made barriers. I am also creating programming to help establish dynamic, long-term relationships between faith groups and land trusts in our region.

How did you get there?

In high school, I spent memorable afternoons trail-running in the woods that neighbor HVA’s headquarters. Follow the Forest’s mission of protecting those same woods inspired my return to the area. I knew I wanted to do forest protection work, an ambition I trace back to my time hiking the Pacific Crest Trail through Oregon’s old growth forests the summer after my freshman year of college. Along the way, I met a high school ecology teacher who could recite the names and uses of all the plants, trees and fungi we passed. His infectious sense of wonder instilled in me a desire to study trees, to learn their names and histories. I got back from my hike and read voraciously. I marveled at the empathy of trees, at the way elders send nutrients to the young and ailing via fungal networks underground.

The summer of 2020, I received RAISE funding from Pomona to read cosmogonic narratives that place trees at the center of creation and explore the primordial bonds linking humans and trees. I went on to write my religious studies thesis about Claremont’s street trees and the preservation of sacred forests by indigenous groups in Japan and India.

How did Pomona prepare you?

Pomona provided me with the academic liberty to pursue a variety of passions—from creative writing to religion and ecology. With the guidance of my thesis advisors, Professor Char Miller and Professor Zayn Kassam, I let myself get carried away into the world of trees. My course of study produced a mixture of excitement and uncertainty, thrill and disquiet at the challenges facing our planet.

Being a staff member for On the Loose, the 5C’s outdoors club, taught me to work closely with my peers as we sought to get students outside in accessible and inclusive ways. Through OTL, I realized my love for bringing people together and sharing meaningful experiences in nature.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I remember being asked this question at the start of college and not knowing where to begin. Now, I can’t see myself doing anything other than environmental justice work. In the next few years, I see myself returning to grad school to earn a forestry degree. I want to speak up for forests and help create more inclusive and healing communities working towards the shared goal of protecting and stewarding lands for current and future generations. I’m particularly interested in joining forces with faith groups to help drive these large-scale actions.

Any advice for current or prospective students?

Keep your college friends close, spend time outside, find ways to give back to the communities that helped you grow, combine your passions and act on your values in ways big and small.