Humans of NAU: Sydney Rittershaus

Portrait of Sydney Rittershaus wearing overalls and a black shirt with her hand to her face

Sydney Rittershaus did not expect to study at NAU. When her recruitment to the volleyball team at another school fell through, NAU stepped in with a scholarship that changed her path. Now she’s grateful to live and study in Flagstaff and to apply her studies to work for the community as a member of Flagstaff Foodlink’s board of directors. She talks about being a catalyst for connections among different kinds of people and her childhood dream of writing on the edge of a volcano.  

What brought you to study at NAU? 

Sydney as a child crouched on a slab of red stone and looking up at the taller red rocks surrounding herIn some ways, I came to NAU by accident. I grew up in Prescott Valley, and my family always took hiking and camping trips to Flagstaff. When I was younger, I took this city for granted because of its familiarity but always enjoyed being up here. In high school, I took tours of all of the state universities, but I remember being entranced by NAU’s North Quad and by the study abroad possibilities. My plan before the COVID-19 pandemic was to play volleyball and enroll at a different university, but my recruiting process was never realized. Amid this daunting and uncertain process, I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to NAU. I am grateful for my support systems and for the opportunities that brought and keep me here in Flagstaff. 

What are your major and minors? 

My major is in geography, environment, and society with minors in sociology and critical sustainability studies. 

What drew you to focus on geography and sociology? 

I started my undergraduate experience as an environmental science major and attended a lecture on Zoom given by associate professor Brian Petersen. I had never heard of NAU’s geography program until then, but I deeply resonated with the discussion about social aspects of climate change. After a few days and more research about available courses, I changed my major and as a result, I became interested in sociology as it relates to critical geography and intersectionality. 

How did you first get involved with Flagstaff Foodlink? What made you want to be a part of that organization? 

When I moved to Flagstaff, I volunteered with the Flagstaff Community Market and was able to connect with incredible community members including but not limited to Summer White, Michael Malcom, Jamison Douglas, Caleb Eckert, Meg Kabotie, Melissa Eckstrom and Carol Fritzinger. Most of them were affiliated with Flagstaff Foodlink and introduced me to their many exciting projects. Throughout the seasons, I’ve had the honor of creating relationships and spending more time with them during our community events, farmers markets and volunteer days at different sites around town. In fall 2022, I was voted onto the Board of Directors alongside my colleagues Sara Sprague and Ryan Gordon. My studies directly inform my work there by providing theoretical foundations for tangible community-building strategies and practices. 

Why do you think building an equitable food system is important to the Flagstaff community? 

Building an equitable food system is vital to any community that wants to shift priorities beyond claims of sustainability and toward socio-ecological well-being. Everybody deserves access to healthy and culturally appropriate food, and Flagstaff has a unique opportunity to model what is possible for municipalities not only within Arizona, but across the country as well. 

Sydney sitting on the slope of a volcano at Easter Island, looking out at the oceanWhat did you want to be when you grew up? 

When I was little, I told my parents that all I wanted to do was sit on the edge of a volcano and write. I’m not sure what exactly led me to this desire, but my writer aspirations still hold true today as I continue investigating the dynamics of nature and society. Last spring, I was able to fulfill little Syd’s dream on my study abroad trip to Easter Island.  

Tell me about a significant childhood memory and how it has impacted your life today. 

Growing up as an only child, I never had a defined friend group within my school and preferred introducing myself and engaging with many different ones. Over time, I’ve realized that I love being a catalyst for connection between different kinds of people. It has been very interesting to explore this part of myself through my work in our local food system, and I’ve found that utilizing food as a mechanism for connection is very effective. 

What do you like to do in your free time? 

Lately I’ve been enjoying spending time with friends doing hot yoga and cafe-hopping. In the warmer months, I love camping around northern Arizona and hosting patio dinner parties utilizing food grown in our own backyards and community gardens. 

 What are three things on your bucket list? 

  1. Open my own regenerative urban farm/community center 
  2. Write and publish a book 
  3. Live abroad for at least one year 

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