When Kristen Wonder visits San Jose State classes to share her story, she says students are often surprised to learn how hard she’s had to fight to pursue an education and create a fulfilling career. She is quick to smile, eager to spread the impact of sustainability and at the same time unafraid to reveal how trauma has shaped her.
“Just because I wear a blazer, it doesn’t mean I don’t know what it means to fight,” says Wonder, campus sustainability coordinator and a graduate of SJSU’s Environmental Studies program. “People have no idea what it took for me to get here.”
By the time she was 11 years old, both of her parents had died, leaving her in the care of step-parents. In her senior year of high school, her stepfather kicked her out of the house. Determined to get an education, Wonder worked three jobs while in community college, often skipping meals to make ends meet. After dropping out her first two semesters, she discovered a food pantry and a peace and global studies program which helped her fast-track educational requirements. Her needs were well enough met that she could focus on creating a better, greener world. What steps could she take to protect the planet?
When Wonder shares her story with SJSU students, she underscores the relief she felt when identifying methods for making the world a healthier, greener place. She had found her purpose.
When she transferred to San Jose State, Wonder became involved in the Student Hunger Committee, a group addressing food insecurity. She organized efforts to reduce waste, donate food and conserve energy as a sustainability intern and later as sustainability coordinator. She was instrumental in launching SJSU’s Spartan Food Pantry in 2019. While these are critical milestones, Wonder says she feels the biggest impact when she shares her story.
“Hunger can affect anyone,” she says. “I know all too well how meeting someone’s basic needs can really help them thrive in the world. When your need for healthy, nutritious food is met, you have more of what you need to thrive and hopefully change the world.”