Mike Stinavage is a M.A. student currently in Spain completing a Fulbright Fellowship at the Public University of Navarre. His research focuses on waste management and organics recycling.
The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Claudia Benincasa: What started your journey into the world of composting?
Mike Stinavage: In college I lived in co-ops where we composted, at times haphazardly. We had a three bin system in our backyard and there was also an organics collection provided by the city of Ann Arbor. Later, when I first moved to New York, I began volunteering at the GrowNYC food-scrap drop-off at Grand Army Plaza. It was at that point that I became curious about the status of organics recycling/compost in NYC. A few years down the line, I began working at the environmental non-profit Big Reuse. Although I’m biased, I have to say Big Reuse is an amazing organization. In addition to their reuse center, they also had a compost processing site (under the Queensboro Bridge) as well as the outreach and enrollment for the Department of Sanitation’s curbside composting program. I loved working for DSNY’s curbside composting enrollment. Then the pandemic touched down in NYC and Mayor’s Office turned off the lights on almost all public composting programs.
CB:You’re currently in Spain with Fulbright. Tell me a bit more and how COVID-19 has impacted your experience.
MS: The pandemic has added an element of uncertainty to the fellowship. I arrived in Pamplona in January and in the months leading up to my departure, there were many moments when it looked like the fellowship might be paused or cancelled entirely. I am grateful that it was only postponed from September 2020 to January 2021. I am also grateful that in Spain the university is open and I’ve been able to audit a course about organic waste and composting, in-person and both masked and socially distanced. Field research and human subject research during COVID-19 have also been uncertain. There have been complications and additional steps in the IRB process, though I am very grateful to be working with Professor Julie George on this administrative side of things. In a few weeks I’ll begin interviewing.
CB: You also write fiction. How has this been connected to your overall academic pursuits?
MS: It’s been connected, and it hasn’t. My academic training in politics has been useful in building characters, undoubtedly. Reading and writing fiction—writing in general—is a great way to practice the craft and to develop one’s voice. Especially in times of COVID. I’m currently finishing a collection of short stories, most of which would be considered speculative fiction. The stories are playful and satirical in that there’s serious subject matter and lines of political/environmental/psychoanalytical interest that are undermined by frivolity.
CB: What made you decide to come to the GC to study political science?
MS: The benefits of a graduate degree are somewhat pragmatic. An M.A. is one way to continue to develop one’s way of thinking while also opening the door to teaching. As a part-time student, CUNY has allowed me to work full-time while taking night classes. It’s also more affordable than most M.A. programs. As for the question of political science, I chose to study waste from this vantage point in order to better understand how to bring topics of the climate crisis and circular economy into democratic processes.
CB: Do you have any particularly fond memories about your time at the GC?
MS: When I first got to the GC, I met with a student representative to get a lay of the land. At that time the rep was Hillary Donnell and since then we’ve continued to be close friends. Academically speaking, I have a lot of appreciation for Dr. Jorge Alves and his research methodologies course. The semester before this fellowship, I took his course and I believe it prepared me well.