Samantha Raghu – Staff Writer
From the small and still town of Lanesboro, MN., Junior Audrey Ochtrup-DeKeyrel was recognized as the campus’ Gustie of the Week.
As an individual who grew up in the rural, southeastern parts of Minnesota, Dekeyrel was initially ecstatic about relocating to a more densely populated space after high school.
“When it came to figuring out where I wanted to go, I applied to 12 different schools, Gustavus being one of them. However, I originally was planning to go to UW Madison; I just wanted to go to a big school in a big city,” Dekeyrel said. As a first generation student, however, Dekeyrel explains that finances were of utmost priority when deciding which school she wanted to attend.
“In my heart, I knew that no matter where I go, I’m going to meet people that I enjoy and have a good time with at college. For the most part, I wanted to make the most logical financial decision. Gustavus was also the very first school that accepted me, and they gave me a very nice financial aid package,” Dekyrel said. Finances aside, Dekyrel felt an embracing sense of community during her first week as a Gustie through interactions with faculty members and students. “When I first visited on Admissions day, it was really nice. I remember it was a rainy March day. Immediately I felt very seen on campus after one of the staff members approached me and knew my name and the town that I was from. And during my first religion class, all the students were super friendly, the teacher was very also very accommodating to myself and other students,” Dekeyrel said.
Given these first conversations, Dekeyrel felt an enormous sense of gratitude towards the campus and solace with her decision to attend Gustavus.
“Now that I’ve been a student for a while, I noticed just how bummed I would have felt at a bigger university. Especially coming from a rural town‒I had a graduating class of 23 people‒I would have been swallowed up by the campus. And at Gustavus, everyone has a level of anonymity, but you’re not just a number. You walk around and you see people and professors that you know personally,” Dekeyrel said.
As an Environmental Studies and Geography double major, Dekeyrel is currently a leading member on the Environmental Action Coalition (EAC) executive board, along with being a previously active member in Building Bridges. Her current areas of discipline coupled with her passions for environmental justice sparked her interests in the current initiatives surrounding our campus’ modes of sustainability. Dekeyrel is now a sustainability intern through the Johnson Center, where she is working towards the goal of a more sustainable and environmentally just campus for all students.
“Myself and five other interns were tasked with helping the college progress towards being more sustainable and environmentally friendly. We were hired through the Environmental Studies program, where they knew there were a lot of students who were passionate about making Gustavus a better place and can pinpoint the flaws the institution unfortunately has. So I’ve been given the opportunity to really work and engage with members of the administration and other actors that are involved in campus function,” Dekeyrel said.
Additionally, her growing interest in sustainable agriculture has been flourishing through her continued work with the Big Hill farm.
“My dad is a farmer, and I remember coming into college ready to leave my rural town. But during the last two years, I’m really passionate about agriculture and making it more environmentally friendly,” Dekeyrel said.
Along with her environmental interests, Dekeyrel also enjoys the thrill of public speaking and theatre, which inspired her to audition for a part in LineUs.
“I was a big theater kid in high school, and I participated in a lot of speech competitions. I partook in all forms of public speaking and I found it very enjoyable,” Dekeyrel said.
During her free time, Dekeyrel dedicates herself to creating art, which has also helped her cope during the unprecedented times of COVID.
“Art has also been an amazing release of building my understanding of myself and reinforcing moments of comfort and calm. A lot of us expend a lot of energy externally, but it’s harder to bring those energies back into ourselves in those moments of self-care,” Dekeyrel said.
Some of her favorite artistic practices include painting, drawing, and sculpting with polymer clay. However, after being gifted an iPad Pro and an Apple pen, she has recently been exploring and creating various forms of digital art.
“I’ve been experimenting more with digital art, which opened so many doors for me in understanding how I want to compose my art. I was honored to be given the opportunity to create the artwork for Building Bridges this year. I have also submitted a piece of digital artwork to a climate art competition for the Midwestern climate summit through the University of Washington St. Louis,” Dekeyrel said.
Especially during the isolating and stressful times of COVID, Dekeyrel has had time to reflect on her favorite memories at Gustavus pre-pandemic that bring her the most heart-warming content.
“A great moment for me was at the beginning of my sophomore year when I helped plan and coordinate the global climate strike that we had in September with Building Bridges and EAC. We had a group of students together in a circle with a megaphone, and I was asked to be the first person to speak. Being able to share in that moment what the Global Climate Strike meant to me was very empowering and an exciting form of community and solidarity with all the other students around me who were just as passionate and enraged at the state of our climate and our government’s reaction to it,” Dekeyrel said.
Other highlights of Dekeyrel’s college experience so far have been unexpected times during breaks on campus.
“During Easter break of my [first] year, myself and a group of friends stayed on campus instead of going home. It was the first beautiful day of spring, and we hammocked and made art which was really exciting. It was the perfect pristine moment of being a college student with some freedom and friends out in such a beautiful and natural space,” Dekeyrel said.