Catherine Garoupa White is the executive director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, working to restore clean air to the San Joaquin Valley. They also teach at CSU Stanislaus and Columbia College. As an activist scholar, Garoupa White seeks to use data with the lived experiences of environmental justice communities to achieve health equity. Before participating as a panelist for a Zócalo/California Wellness Foundation event, “Can California Solve Its Air Quality Inequality?,” they sat down in our green room to tell us about their favorite free-flowing river, the planet they’d most like to make habitable, and their best advice for college students.
What is your favorite place to go in all of the San Joaquin Valley?
My favorite place to go in the San Joaquin Valley would definitely be where I grew up. I have so many fond memories attached to my childhood and the landscapes, particularly around Madera County, which is at the edge of Yosemite. It’s very beautiful.
What is your favorite pandemic find?
I discovered several miles of trail pretty close to my house that I didn’t realize were there. It’s [part of] the Cosumnes River Preserve, and it contains the only river in the Central Valley that is not dammed—still natural and free-flowing. And a lot of the migratory birds come through there, so it’s an awesome place to walk around and look at birds.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would like to fly.
What is some advice you give to your students?
I would say two things. The immediate thing I tell my students is to work ahead as much as possible, and give yourself a buffer. You never know what will happen, especially now with this pandemic. The big picture advice that I give is to build your connections and experience now so that when you graduate, you’re well qualified to get a job. It’s something a lot of college students don’t necessarily think about and is not often taught in classes.
What is your go-to snack?
Popcorn. Lots of butter.
What is a moment in your life that took your breath away?
I had a quote at my wedding that was something to the effect of [the famous quote]: “Life isn’t measured by how many breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.” Definitely getting married was one of those moments.
Any big goals for 2022?
Recover from the pandemic. And hopefully get—I can’t even say “back to normal”—recovered.
If you could make any planet habitable, which would you choose, and why?
I haven’t studied my planets enough to make an informed decision, but I’m going to go with Venus, because it’s associated with love.