Profile with Katharine Wilkinson

Katharine Wilkinson

Dr. Katharine Wilkinson (Tennessee & Trinity 2006) is a behavior and culture strategist, sustainability specialist, and author of the recent book Between God & Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change (OUP 2012). Her work fosters the power of people to build thriving organizations and communities. Dr. Wilkinson holds a DPhil in Geography and the Environment from the University of Oxford, and a BA in Religion from Sewanee: The University of the South.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?  

Katharine Wilkinson: Atlanta, Georgia.

Rhodes Project: What was the first job you ever held?

Katharine Wilkinson: When I was fifteen, I ran a snack shop as a summer job.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you couldn’t put down?

Katharine Wilkinson: I just read Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, about the power of vulnerability and imperfection. I got hooked on her work after her first TED talk, and I’ve been a big fan ever since.

Rhodes Project: When you were a kid, what did you aspire to be later in life?

Katharine Wilkinson: I was a totally horse-crazy child—and still am a pretty horse-crazy grown-up—so I wanted to be a professional equestrian. In 5th grade, I pasted a photo of my face onto a picture of Olympic dressage rider Carol Lavell with her horse Gifted!

Rhodes Project: I know that you recently wrote a book, and I was hoping you could tell me what your favorite part of that process was?

Katharine Wilkinson: The book is based on my DPhil research from Oxford. For me, the most meaningful part of writing the book was getting to jailbreak the research out of academic prison. I wanted to share the story with broader audiences—with folks who are actively engaged in climate advocacy, from both faith-based and secular perspectives. I was really hoping that my work would have an impact beyond the Ivory Tower, sparking conversation and maybe even collaboration.

Rhodes Project: What would you say was the most challenging part of writing your book?

Katharine Wilkinson: Definitely the most challenging part was re-writing the dissertation, going back to something you kind of never want to look at again and giving it another round of love.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman in your field?

Katharine Wilkinson: There are lots of worthwhile pieces of advice. I think connecting with fellow travelers is key—mentors and advocates more senior than you, peers and colleagues, or more junior folks. Across the board, building relationships with people who share similar passions and who you really love working with is essential. I’ve realized that whatever field you’re in, so much of success has to do with who you are collaborating with. So it’s very important to seek out people who inspire you, who you enjoy, and who also support and challenge you. Plus, that’s what makes it fun.

Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?

Katharine Wilkinson: I still ride horses—though not as often as I’d like. I’m never going to be someone who is good at meditation. I have a hard time shutting my brain down, but somehow being on the back of a 1400-pound animal helps me do that, to be totally present. And I try to spend as much time as I can in the mountains with my dogs.

Rhodes Project: What inspires you and why?

Katharine Wilkinson: I get really excited by the power of people to effect change. I am really lucky to serve on a Rhodes selection committee and on a leadership council for the Posse Foundation. There is nothing in my life that inspires me quite like interacting with these incredibly engaged, passionate, concerned, smart, and capable young people, who are just beginning their journeys to make the world a better place.


Rhodes Project: If you could meet one female historical figure, who would it be and why?

Katharine Wilkinson: I’d really like to meet Rosa Parks. I went to college on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, near the original location of the Highlander Folk School, which played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement. Parks spent time there doing nonviolent resistance training right before the Montgomery bus boycott. The story we hear suggests her act of defiance just suddenly happened—I’d be interested to hear the more complex back-story. I would also love to have a three-way conversation with Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, whose stories I love. If I get to meet a historical figure, why just pick one?

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