In 2021, Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute announced plans for a new initiative called the McKinney Midwest Climate Project. Structurally, it merges two previous entities into one. The membership of ERI’s Resilience Cohort program and Sustain IU’s Indiana Climate Fellows are now combined, and renamed the McKinney Climate Fellows.
Around 40 IU students are already participating statewide, and the first McKinney Climate Fellow at IU South Bend is Katherine Couch.
Couch was born in South Bend, graduated in the class of 2012 from Trinity School at Greenlawn, and went on to pursue International Studies and French at Emory University, earning her bachelor’s degree in 2016. After college, she taught humanities for three years at her alma mater, Trinity, and then spent three more years as a reading instructor at Next Step Learning Center.
That work was certainly meaningful, but a steadily growing commitment to environmental justice and sustainability sent her back to IU South Bend.
I needed to be a student again, instead of a teacher, Couch said.
She is now working on a master’s in Sustainability Studies.
Throughout college, as I learned more about climate change, the detrimental impact of modern consumer society, the exploitation of people as well as the degradation of the natural environment, I became interested in living more sustainably, she said. So I started that journey on a personal lifestyle level.
After college, she began to feel an increased sense of urgency.
I realized that it’s all so much bigger than just me, and that I was going to need a lot more knowledge if I was going to live more sustainably, and hopefully make communities more sustainable as well, Couch said.
Her first summer as a McKinney Climate Fellow has found her in an internship at the Patachou Foundation in Indianapolis. Patachou operates a multifaceted series of programs which aim to combat food insecurity among Indianapolis’ youth. Couch is operating daily logistics for a component called the Food Fellowship. High-school students learn culinary skills and urban farming techniques, and they also get mentored in resume-building and financial literacy.
Many of the responsibilities for both Couch and the kids require plenty of hard work, but there is an immense payoff for the environment and for the students’ future in the workforce. There’s also a lot of fun to be had. Some students train as baristas in Patachou’s coffee shop.
That’s one of their favorite things, Couch said. They are so excited and they are so proud of their latte art.