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Senior reflections: Jacobson ’18 pushes for purpose beyond Carleton

June 4, 2018 at 9:24 am
By Thomas Rozwadowski

Natalie Jacobson '18You’d be hard-pressed to find someone at Carleton who loves talking about other people — and not herself — as much as Natalie Jacobson ’18.

Who she’s met in Northfield while working with community partners for the Food Recovery Network, who she talked to while conducting social justice research at a Minneapolis church, who she lived, traveled, and cooked with in New Zealand or at Wade House on campus — the personal stories of family, friends, and strangers have been the catalyst for Jacobson’s full-throttle approach to difference making.

In high school, Jacobson was president of the environmental club and heavily involved in community service initiatives. While at Carleton, her leadership experience spread to roles with the Center for Community and Civic Engagement as program director for the Food Recovery Network, the Sustainability Office as a special events coordinator for events like Climate Action Week, and student groups SOPE (Students Organized for the Protection of the Environment) and SARC (Student Advocates for Reproductive Choice).

“Those are the places at Carleton that give me purpose. That’s where I get life,” Jacobson says.

“I had to tell myself a lot of times — ‘What am I going to remember about Carleton?’ Will it be studying in the library at 2 a.m.? Or are those moments of leadership and community building more important? To me, if you’re not going out and implementing your learning, it’s a missed opportunity. I had to figure out where I wanted to put my energy.”

Growing up in a civically engaged environment like Evanston, Ill. inspired Jacobson to work toward social and systems change early. But it was a family tragedy — the death of her dad to cancer when she was 10 — that forced Jacobson to assess her future in less individualized terms. Her mom, a single parent working at the Evanston Public Library, “had to overcome a monumental loss and be a stable role model for us.” Along with her brother Alec ’21, the Jacobson trio had to learn to look out for one another.

“It helped that people talked about my dad a lot, so he always felt present. He was a social worker, and I think a lot of what I’m interested in comes from wanting to make him proud. He’s not here to see what I’m doing, but I like to think that he would have interesting insights he’d want to share with me,” Jacobson says.

“There’s something about losing a parent at a young age. It makes you think about how you only have so much time here. And for me, I choose to use that time to build and support community.”

Four years at Carleton have inevitably shaped Jacobson. Likewise, her presence on campus helped shape Carleton.

In a series of senior interviews, we asked Jacobson (American studies) to reflect on life as a Carl and the road to graduation.


I have a hard time with change and transition. My senior year of high school, I found my niche, found the things I wanted to be involved in — and I was scared to leave. I was comfortable! So I think that influenced my college search and how I wanted to be part of another tight knit community. I wanted to be in a place where I knew other people’s names, where I could recognize people wherever I went.

When I look back at fall term of my freshman year, I feel like I was dropped into a magical place. Everything was exciting and new. It very much felt like a fairy tale. Two of my closest friends to this day were in my New Student Week group — so lucky things like that happened. I know a lot of friends had trouble with the transition to college, and I had hard parts come later, but I think it was rare to click with Carleton so early.


I took a Global Religions in Minnesota class during my sophomore year where I got to pick a place of worship in the area and do field research for the term. I spent time at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Minneapolis and really fell in love with interviewing people, hearing their stories. There was so much community engagement going on there — social justice, racial justice, environmental justice — and I learned what made people passionate about building community. That class has influenced a lot of projects I’ve done at Carleton, including my Comps about food waste and food insecurity and an independent research project I did while abroad in New Zealand.

Going abroad also happened at a time, junior year (fall term), when I really needed it. I felt more free and relaxed, like a better version of myself. All of these stressors that came from taking on too much as a freshman and sophomore went away in a new environment. Life just slowed down. I went back to Carleton feeling like I had time to get to know people in a deeper way. It kind of felt like I had been doing everything wrong up until that point (laughs), but I realized that I just needed to be more intentional with my relationships and not overload myself.


I know the word “bubble” gets used a lot here, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I got involved as a volunteer with the Food Recovery Network as a freshman, and as program director the next year, I was part of this amazing team that continued to grow. We went from one community partner we were donating to, recovering food once or twice a week from one Carleton dining hall, to donating six nights a week from Burton, LDC, and Sayles with eight different community partners in Northfield and Faribault. It was really great to be part of that broader community and step outside campus life.

I feel so lucky to have had this college experience. When I look back on who I was when I arrived, I feel like I’ve become more comfortable in my skin. I used to be really self-conscious in high school. I always thought about how other people perceived me. The people at Carleton, through their kindness and by being so down to earth, really helped me become more comfortable with who I am and what I enjoy giving my time to.

Photo credit: Peycen Ouyang '18