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No Ivory Tower for Arlo

Being at Earlham has helped Arlo Townsley ’20 realize how much he took for granted back home on his family’s organic farm in rural Wisconsin.

Both of his parents have training in social work, but his dad works full-time on the farm. Mom is a licensed independent clinical social worker.

“Coming out of that background of being connected to the environment and people as well gives me a different perspective,” says Townsley. “At home we have a unique relationship with the land and the community. People there live in or at least try to live in a sustainable way.”

Initially, Townsley envisioned working to research solar cells or implementing wind farms.

“Those are important, but you can’t just ignore the social side of things,” he says.

Majors in Physics and Human Development and Social Relations give him a solid foundation in both the scientific and relational aspects of making the world more sustainable.

“My experience on the farm made it difficult in ways coming to academia,” he says. “Your actions are very tangible when you’re living close to the environment and doing things outside is very important. Here sometimes it feels as if you’re stuck in an ivory tower and you get lost in the theory. There’s not a lot going in or coming out. It’s very self-contained, and sometimes it doesn’t feel like you are doing very much. Activity is built into the lifestyle back home.”

There was no way Townsley was going to get stuck in an ivory tower, however, and at Earlham he found plenty of ways to stay busy outside the classroom. His extracurricular activities include working with the Green Science Applied Group on projects like building solar picnic tables and moving the solar arrays and wind turbine from campus to Miller Farm, Earlham’s nearby landholding for students to grow crops and test environmental practices.

“Green science is a good way to feel like I’m doing something,” he says. “People can charge their computers or phones at the solar picnic table. It’s not a huge impact but it’s heading in the right direction.”

Townsley plays guitar, something he says he’ll never give up, and plays in two jazz bands. He’s very involved in outdoor education at Earlham, having taught and participated in August Wilderness, rock climbing, canoeing and outdoor leadership.

“Growing up in Wisconsin I did a lot of climbing, snowboarding and canoeing, and it was good to have that community here at Earlham to tap into.”

In addition, Townsley is involved in student government, serving initially on the Student-Faculty Affairs Committee, which he now co-convenes. Townsley is also one of seven students who is redesigning Earlham Student Government to make it more effective.

His interests have taken him abroad as well. In May 2018 he traveled to glaciers of Iceland to study what happens to the soil when glaciers recede.

While his two majors seem to point in different directions, one to a world of things and the other a world of people, Townsley doesn’t see things that way.

“Physics and HDSR may seem separate, but there are a lot of in-between and complementary aspects between the two,” he says. “I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with them, but my options have exploded. I have no idea, and that’s scary but exciting.”

After graduation? He plans to start with work, possibly abroad, and then think through his next steps.


Arlo Townsley

Arlo Townsley 2020

Pronouns: He/him/his

Hometown: Viroqua, Wisconsin

Major at Earlham: Physics, HDSR

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