Riley Theobald (Class of 2017)

photo of Riley Theobald

  • senior Health Promotion major
  • minor in Global Perspectives on Sustainability
  • from Marshfield, MO
  • studied permaculture in Geelong, Australia
  • works with the Myaamia Center growing miincipi, a traditional corn for the Miami Tribe
"Miami faculty and staff are quite amazing, and have helped me discover what kind of path I want to choose after my 4 years are up."

Why Miami?

"I had older siblings who came to Miami, but I was also interested in the Miami Tribe's connection with the university. I always had it in the back of my mind that Miami could be a great school for me, and when I visited I loved the whole campus. Trees and green spaces everywhere, unique old buildings, really everything about the campus was beautiful. Robert Frost pretty much nailed it.

"My first year was awesome. I was undecided on my major, but right away I got plugged into the Outdoor Pursuit Center and lived in their Living Learning Community (LLC) in Porter Hall. We all got to know each other from the start, and there was a never-ending stream of fun adventures we had together, as well as becoming close friends. Friends I became best friends with, who make each year even better than the last.That really set the tone for my 4 years here at Miami.

"Miami has a great number of beautiful outdoor areas and trails, and the campus is small enough to really get to know your classmates. I love running into my friends while walking down the street!"

Best Miami Experiences

"Last summer I began an independent study project for my Global Perspectives on Sustainability minor about health, food and culture. It involved doing fieldwork with the Ecology Research Center (ERC) and the Myaamia Center, where we grew white-flowering corn. I worked with George Ironstack and Daryl Baldwin, who are both connected with the Myaamia Center and are also members of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.
[Read more about Daryl Baldwin's research in the September 2016 Miami press release MacArthur "genius grant" awarded to Miami University's Daryl Baldwin.]

Riley Theobald hiking along Australia's southern coast

"A big part of this project focused on the Miami Tribe, in which we grew traditional miincipi. Miincipi is a Myaamia word for corn and it's very limited in quantity. We've been really focused on getting enough seedstock so other members of the Tribe can actually grow it themselves.

"I also studied abroad in Geelong, Australia during my sophomore year, which inspired me to pick up my sustainability minor. Geelong is located south in the state of Victoria, right near Melbourne, and I learned about permaculture, which is a type of sustainable and self-sufficient gardening. It was my first time being exposed to permaculture, and it was so fascinating that it also led me to my independent study with the Tribe."

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"Taking liberal arts classes does in fact make students well rounded, just as Miami states in all the booklets you get the first year of college. Taking classes outside my major has allowed me to have amazing experiences and take part in super sweet research studies, opening my eyes to just how much the world offers to those who are willing to take a chance.

"I haven't decided what I want my career to be yet, but my studies have shown me I am on the right track. Every day I fall more in love with what I am learning and doing, and excited for what my future holds. Both my Health Promotion major and Global Perspectives on Sustainability minor are giving me experience in all facets of health. Each research opportunity I have taken advantage of, each person I have connected with, has shown me how everything is intertwined, and having such a wide background of experience that a liberal arts education allows students to have, is what places Miami University at the top.

"Last semester I took Native North America: Anthropological Perspectives [ATH 304], which discussed Native North American cultures and how a people's culture impacts and even defines their health, their lifestyle, and really everything in how a people live with each other and the rest of the world. The past 4 years has allowed me to learn more about my own heritage as well as other cultures, and how connected health and culture are. I love learning how health is addressed, as well as not addressed, across the world, and hope to never stop learning!

"Classes in geology and geography, to literature and art, have proved over and over to me how tied together they are. The wide array of classes have taught me how to connect things that at first glance may not seem to naturally connect. My independent study has especially shown me how culture, health, and food all revolve around each other."

Studying in Australia; Growing Sustainable Corn at the ERC

"Food is at the core of our health, and it has many cultural aspects that have both similarities and differences in every group of people. I enjoy learning about the relationships between food, culture, and health, and I see that especially from learning to cultivate miincipi.

"I first became interested in sustainable gardening during my sophomore year on a 5-month study abroad trip to Geelong, Australia, based at Deakin University. While there I learned many things. Australian Aboriginal health and wellness was especially interesting, as well as surfing; which I did as much as I could, because the coast was so near. You could look out the university library window, and see people surfing and sailing in the bay — it was amazing and made studying that much harder to do.

"While there I lived with an older woman for awhile, who was extremely passionate about permaculture. She took me to countless meetings, gardening clubs, and allowed me to learn and put to practice the art of gardening. In Geelong and throughout southern Australia there were community gardens where people got together to discuss various growing and harvesting techniques, as well as throw fun festivals centered around community and locally grown food from the gardens. Being a part of this not only made me more aware of the partnership between culture and gardening, but that the community of people behind it all is just as important as the food grown.

"This was my first experience with permaculture. My family has always had a garden growing up, but after coming to Miami and not having a garden, I didn't really think about it again until I took an aboriginal health class at Deakin University during my trip. It further opened my eyes to indigenous health and traditions, and I became even more interested in how different cultures can work together.

Riley Theobald inspects miincipi corn crop at the Ecology Research Center.

"When I returned to Miami, I decided to add the Global Perspectives on Sustainability minor, which followed with taking part in an independent study of growing corn and and studying various people groups' food systems, and lifestyle of health, with a focus on the Miami Tribe. Working with the Myaamia Center, as well as traveling to other tribes across the States, I could tie my newfound interests in permaculture into both my major and minor.

"Miincipi is not like the sweet corn you would buy at a supermarket. It's a white flowering corn that is typically 8-10 rows. This corn has large ties to the Miami Tribe's culture, and I was was able to learn in great depth the traditions, stories, and history revolving around it, as well as aid in replenishing seedstock so that tribal members can have greater access to it.

"I spent many hours at the ERC from the start to finish of the growing process, as well as at my computer and various other places learning about how my ancestors grew and harvested corn."

Advice to Students

"Take Miami Plan classes with an open mind. Even if they seem like they don't relate to your major, you can learn so much. Take classes that sound interesting, no matter how irrelevant they seem at the time. Who knows what doors will open from them, or the connections you will make. I took classes that fulfilled requirements, as well as classes that didn't. And all of them were equally vital in showing me where and how I thrive the greatest, and how to go about making my dreams a reality.

"As far as doing research and undertaking an independent study, I believe in just going for it! Even if it doesn't make complete sense of how it relates to your major, if it sounds interesting it is probably something that will impact your life in ways you might not see coming. I had never grown corn before, but it sounded awesome, and allowed me to learn more about my own heritage, as well as opened my eyes to careers I typically would not have thought about. Miami faculty and staff are quite amazing, and have helped me discover what kind of path I want to choose after my 4 years are up. Take advantage of that and make the most of it."

[September 2016]