Graduation Spotlight: UM Student Discovers Passion for Environment

UM senior Zoe Transtrum studied at the PEAS Farm, which grows thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables for the Missoula Food Bank.

By Kyle Spurr, UM News Service

MISSOULA – Zoe Transtrum wasn’t planning to pursue environmental studies when she came to the University of Montana on a soccer scholarship from her hometown of Boise, Idaho.

Zoe Transtrum had several hands-on learning experiences at UM, including gardening at PEAS Farm

But after taking a class on sustainable communities her first semester in fall 2018, Transtrum was hooked. She went on to double major in environmental studies and sustainability science and practice and minor in climate change studies and ecological restoration

“After I took that course my freshman year, I thought this is where I belong,” Transtrum said. “It introduced all of these topics that were completely new to me. And it really drew me in.”

Throughout her four years, Transtrum had several hands-on learning experiences including an internship at the PEAS Farm, an urban, sustainable farm that grows thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables for the Missoula Food Bank. 

Last summer, Transtrum earned college credits through an outdoor course with the Wild Rockies Field Institute, where she backpacked for three weeks through Yellowstone National Park. She learned first-hand about restoration efforts in the park. 

“It was three weeks of backpacking and camping the whole time and meeting with land managers,” Transtrum said. “I’ve never been backpacking before so it was awesome to learn.”

Peter McDonough, climate change studies program director at UM who has known Transtrum for the past four years, said he is impressed with her ability to examine major global issues such as climate justice and women empowerment while staying positive and motivated. 

“She has a characteristic combination of intense passion for and wry humor about really big issues,” McDonough said. “The result is this powerful but encouraging presence of mind and purpose.

Transtrum’s work in the climate change studies program has directly contributed to sustainability efforts and awareness on campus through projects and her ability to connect easily with people, McDonough said. 

“I like to think the climate change studies program attracts a certain kind of student who can emotionally face a global crisis and thrive in a supportive community of others doing the same,” McDonough said. “Zoe epitomizes that idea and has been an inspiration to many others in the program.”

Outside of environmental studies, another major highlight for Transtrum was her participation in the Sports Diplomacy: Sport for Social Change exchange program through the Mansfield Center. In the program, Transtrum traveled to Peru in the spring of her freshman year with a group of about 15 people, ranging from high school students to adults. Their goal was to advocate for gender equality and women empowerment by using soccer as a platform. 

Transtrum, a midfielder on the Griz soccer team, played soccer with young girls in Peru and helped host workshops and training sessions. The Peruvian girls later came to Missoula as part of the two-way exchange. 

“There’s so many more barriers that women have there to be able to play sports,” Transtrum said.  “That was really eye opening to me. It made me really appreciate my opportunity to play soccer here.”

Heidi Blair, program manager at the Mansfield Center who oversees Sports Diplomacy, said Transtrum thrived in the program and connected cross-culturally with the Peruvian girls using her kind and genuine personality. Transtrum also led and mentored the high school students in her group, Blair said. 

“Not only is Zoe a skilled and passionate soccer player, she also stepped into these leadership and teaching positions with humble confidence and grace,” Blair said. 

As a Griz soccer player, Transtrum finished her college career on a high note when the team won the Big Sky Conference Tournament last fall and qualified for the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament. 

Transtrum has continued to share her love of soccer by coaching a U12 youth team and playing in adult soccer leagues. She enjoys being a role model for the younger players. 

“It reminded me that this game can be used for so much more than just competition,” she said. 

Transtrum’s other skill is playing the violin, which she has done since she was about 4 years old, the same time she started kicking a soccer ball. Before graduation, she performed in the pit orchestra of the musical “She Loves Me,” produced by UM’s theater and music schools.

As she finishes her final performances and looks back fondly at her time at UM, Transtrum is excited for all the possibilities that lie ahead. She is interested in careers focused on sustainability or climate change. Both have become strong passions since she arrived on campus.

“I didn’t even know I was interested in going into the environmental field,” Transtrum said. “But to have all these really cool experiences and to learn about it here has been so special.”


Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM Strategic Communications director, 406-243-5659,