Chenus puts environmental science in the spotlight

Valentine Chenus standing in a stream, wearing a bright pink jacket and blue jeans.
Valentine Chenus has been a leader for environmental action on campus, in addition to playing several roles in various Iowa State theater productions.

By Amber Friedrichsen

What does environmental action have to do with theater? As a senior in environmental science and performing arts, Valentine Chenus believes the two go hand-in-hand when it comes to spreading a message and making an impact.

Chenus grew up exploring the outdoors and participating in high school drama. It wasn’t until she came to Iowa State University that she realized she could pursue both of her passions as a double major. Since then, she has been connecting the dots between the two disciplines.

“Theater is a vessel to spread information about environmental action,” she said. “Whether it’s a story as simple as a fairy tale or an idea about global climate change, it’s all about communicating to an audience.”

Valentine Chenus on stage with several other actors during a theater production.
Valentine Chenus, center, has held several roles in various Iowa State theater productions, both on and off stage. Several of the productions have been related to environmental action, aligning with her passion for environmental science.

She has been an actor and a dancer in several university productions, and she has held many leadership roles behind the scenes. Last year, she was an assistant director for the new musical "BABA," which is a retelling of the legend of Baba Yaga about a character who is concerned about global climate change. The theme of the musical inspired a post-show exhibit about environmental action at Iowa State.

“We used the lobby of Fisher Theater as a display room for resources about campus sustainability efforts, like recycling and composting,” Chenus said. “It was cool to be a part of something at the intersection of the two things I love.”

Chenus was also the stage manager for "Climate Change Theatre Action" in the fall. This series of short plays about environmental protection was performed 17 times in various locations, including Parks Library, the Ames Farmers Market and a city art festival. As stage manager, Chenus organized rehearsal schedules, created blocking notes for the cast and collaborated with the design team.  

In addition to her advocacy on stage, Chenus has been a leader for environmental action on campus. She previously served as the vice-chair for the student government sustainability committee and is currently the co-president of the Green Umbrella. This organization brings together various sustainability clubs to do service projects and encourage ecofriendly practices among students, faculty and staff. 

Chenus has also worked as the campus and community engagement intern for Live Green, a university initiative created to promote campus-wide sustainability. In this position, she organized events like Sustainapalooza and the Earth Day Celebration where local businesses come to Iowa State to share their sustainability efforts with students.  

Dick Williams, student services specialist in environmental science, is Chenus’ academic advisor. He has witnessed her leadership in these organizations and as a peer mentor for the Science of the Environment and Sustainable Systems learning community.

“Valentine has taken full advantage of the opportunities available at Iowa State,” Williams said. “She is everything we look for in a peer mentor; she is motivated, self-directed and offers help to others.”

After graduating from college next year, Chenus plans on working in research before returning to graduate school for aquatic ecology. During that time, she wants to continue managing and performing in public productions, especially if they are about environmental action.