GREAT LAKES JUSTICE

by Chris Killian

The actions of three Kalamazoo College alumni apply social justice on behalf of a living entity that cannot speak for itself: the Great Lakes. Chris Adamo ’99, Matt Doss ’85, and Allegra Cangelosi ’78 have dedicated their careers to environmental service. And though each has chosen a different path, they are bound together by their love of the Great Lakes region and a desire to give back, an outlook that connects them across three decades of life and learning.

Adamo, a St. Clair Shores, Michigan, native, looked at several small colleges-- including Ohio Wesleyan and St. James in New York--before settling on K.

“It felt like the right place,” he says, “a place where I could do different things.”

Like most students, he did.

Adamo studied economics and business and environmental studies. He spent six months in Ecuador for study abroad, a time when he was immersed in the natural world. His love for the environment grew.

After graduation he attended Vermont Law School, earning a degree in environmental law. He moved to Washington, D.C., a year later to work as a legislative counsel to United States Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. He still works for her and also serves as staff director of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, focusing on natural resource, environment, and Great Lakes issues. Those efforts led to his connection with Doss and Cangelosi.

“When the environment is brought up, it’s usually about jobs versus the environment,” Adamo says. “It’s a false choice. I remember being at K and how we were asked to look at the connectivity of things. There’s got to be some way to combine economic opportunity with environmental improvement.”

From manufacturing to fishing to tourism, more than 1.5 million jobs and $62 billion in wages are directly tied to the Great Lakes, home to 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water. Ensuring the region’s environmental sustainability, while developing its clean energy attributes--such as wind power--are indispensable for a sustainable and responsible economic model that is fast becoming a necessity given the realities of climate change, Adamo says.

For that big challenge, Adamo will rely in part on his time at K and how his professors would routinely ask him to think and act beyond the classroom, to consider other points of view and challenge his own ways of thinking.  “You were exposed to different ways of attacking a problem,” he says of his time as a K student. “Your way is not the only way. You learn that at Kalamazoo College.”

Matt Doss’s love of the Great Lakes and the natural world started when he was young. His family would routinely drive north from their home in Ann Arbor to Traverse City and spend time in the picturesque Lake Michigan resort town of Empire, where Doss would walk the beach, picking up rocks, taking in the splendor of the big lake.

“The natural beauty of the Great Lakes is unique,” Doss says. “It’s our region’s Grand Canyon.”

As a teenager, he tagged along with an older sister when she visited K. She didn’t end up going to the College, but Doss was attracted by the size of the school, its solid academic reputation, and the opportunities offered by the K-Plan. He found a home.

And much like Adamo, Doss--a political science and history major at K--found his way to Capitol Hill, although not initially to do environmental work.

He took an internship in Washington for his sophomore career service experience, living with other K students and working in the office of the late Howard Wolpe, then Congressman for the Kalamazoo area. After foreign study in Madrid and graduation from K, he returned to the nation’s capital for more internships, including one with Michigan Senator Carl Levin.

“I thought, ‘Well, I might as well be on the Hill while I’m looking for a job on the Hill,’” Doss says.

With a strong résumé in hand, he was hired as a legislative assistant for then Representative George Brown of California, an opportunity that likely would not have been possible if not for all those internships. After stints in Spain and San Francisco, Doss lives once again in Ann Arbor, where he is policy director for the Great Lakes Commission, an interstate agency that, among other things, advocates on behalf of the eight Great Lakes states with Congress. A quarter century after working as an intern for Senator Levin, Doss now interacts regularly with the Senator and his staff on Great Lakes issues.

“The whole K-Plan works to expand students’ horizons with experiences at home and around the world,” Doss says. “There are rigorous academics on campus, yes, but they are complemented with other important experiences.”

“I’d like to think K created a love of leaning, and a love of lifelong learning,” Doss added. “I could have gone into public relations or worked in the corporate world. But I wanted a job that served the public good.”

When Allegra Cangelosi arrived at K in the mid-1970s, the environmental movement in the United States was still in its infancy.

And although the College at that time did not have a comprehensive environmental studies
Jobs versus the economy is a false choice.
curriculum, the Grand Rapids native knew that K was the kind of progressive liberal arts school that would nurture her desire to learn more about the natural world and how to heal it. She studied biology, but her classes were mostly geared toward pre-med students, she says.

She pursued field biology at the University of Michigan Biological Station in Pellston, Michigan, the summer after her freshman year, and later during her career service quarter.

“K was a good fit for me,” Cangelosi says. “It was small, and direct access to professors means you can really learn.”

After graduation, she worked at outdoor centers in Michigan and the western United States. In 1986, she earned a master’s degree from Michigan State University’s Department of Resource Development, focusing on the intermingling of economics, engineering, and environmental law. 

As it did with Adamo and Doss, the world of policy-making beckoned Cangelosi. She interned with the National Governors’ Association, and later accepted full-time environmental policy work, first with the Coalition of Northeastern Governors and then with former Ohio Senator John Glenn. Her work focused on Great Lakes issues.

And although Washington, D.C., is where she lives, her home state--and the abundant water resources that surround it--live in her.

Cangelosi long served as director of environmental projects for the Northeast-Midwest Institute, focusing mostly on initiatives to regulate ballast water, which can contain invasive species, of ships entering the Great Lakes system. She is now president of the organization.

“Money can buy improvements,” she says. “But if there are no rules in place to keep from re-soiling places, then we’ll lose that progress.”

Cangelosi says she’s heartened to see K make an even deeper commitment to social justice with the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. Caring for the environment, she says, fits nicely into the center’s mission.

“Caring for the environment is absolutely a social justice issue,” she says. “A healthy ecosystem nurtures and feeds all of us; it is democratic. K is good at helping us see beyond the ‘me’ to the ‘us.’”

Photo 1 - Chris Adamo is staff director of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
Photo 2 - Matt Doss brought an unconventional guest (an Asian Carp) to the Great Lakes Day congressional reception so that Members of Congress and their staffs could have a first-hand view of what experts fear could devastate the Great Lakes ecosystem.


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