Person smiling standing on a beach



Santa Clara, CA & Chennai, India | born & raised


Varshaa Balajee ‘22 is a multilingual visual artist who is passionate about topics relating to race, caste and mental health.

The path to Sterling

Varshaa was born in Santa Clara, California. When she was six years old she moved to Chennai, India, where she grew up for most of her life. During high school, she volunteered with  Aid India, and helped with collection drives held across Chennai. She also volunteered with Teach for India, where she went to government schools all around her city to demonstrate science experiments using household objects. After high school graduation in 2018, Varshaa took a gap semester to volunteer with the Environmental Foundation of India.

In January 2019, Varshaa arrived in snowy Craftsbury Common, Vermont. “Sterling is my ideal college type,” Varshaa said. “I searched for many colleges throughout my time in high school. Not only were they traditional, but they also had a repeat of the same courses over and over again. I needed to try something new. When I came across the words ‘Environmental Humanities,’ I knew Sterling was the place I wanted to be.” 

On and off-campus

“So far, most of my classes have been creative outlets for me,” Varshaa said. “I have been able to develop my place in the world, and what I want to do in the future, because of these classes.” In addition to taking academic classes and participating in the Work Program, Varshaa is part of the ROOTS group, Environmental & Social Justice Club, and Art Club.

Varshaa enjoys the community vibe on campus, and shared a fun example of an experience in Dunbar Dining Hall. “Pizza time in Dunbar has always been my favorite, when the entire college population gathers, and we all eat pizza,” she said. “To me, this is the simplest form of human connection, because we eat the same food in the same space.”

Varshaa is getting off campus too. For the Fall 2019 Intensive, this meant traveling to Nova Scotia, Canada for the Cape Breton Global Field Study trip. Faculty-led, immersive, and environmentally-focused, the Sterling College Global Field Studies program offers students a chance to discover the diversity of the planet’s landscapes and cultures, and explore the complex, ever-changing co-evolutionary relationships among people and place. For this trip, a group of ten students and two faculty members went to Cape Breton and spent 11 days looking at the cultural and traditional practices followed by the people who live there, investigating the ways in which past cultural and ecological knowledge systems have influenced modern folk artists such as Highland step dancers, fiddlers, kilt-makers, and storytellers. 

Faculty & staff connections

When asked who on the staff and faculty she has especially connected with, Varshaa replied, “I would name almost everyone here at Sterling, because they have all been a part of my journey.” She noted that her academic advisor, Faculty in Environmental Humanities Carol Dickson, has been a huge influence. “Carol’s guidance, praise, and motivation have helped me figure out who I am, and why I am a valuable asset to myself.”

“Amalia Harris, Director of Admission Services, whom I consider the best person ever, has been my go-to person at Sterling,” Varshaa added. “I enjoy the time that I spend working with Amalia in the Work Program, as she is such a gem to the College.”

“Elizabeth Chadwick ‘14, Director of Dining Services and my supervisor for the Work Program, has been an amazing influence,” Varshaa continued. “Working in the kitchen is really fun because of the staff who work there. I also learned how to bake recently, and I have had so much fun making all sorts of goodies for the Sterling community.”  

Reflecting on starting in the ‘spring’ semester

 Varshaa experienced her first snow in Craftsbury immediately upon arrival to campus and embraced it fully. “I have been able to enjoy the snow, and if you are experiencing it for the first time, you will love it too!” Her friendly and encouraging advice to students unfamiliar with snow is to be prepared. “Your mind needs to be ready to work when the temperatures are in the negatives. You have got this!” 

Ecological thinking and action 

Sterling’s mission is to advance ecological thinking and action through affordable experiential learning that prepares people to be knowledgeable, skilled, and responsible leaders in the communities in which they live. To Varshaa, “Ecological thinking and action literally means ‘Working Hands, Working Minds,’ the motto of Sterling College. I have always believed in experiential learning, and the concept of learning by doing.”

She continued, “In this world, where people choose to either believe or not believe in the climate crisis, I feel the need to poetically and artistically describe our earth. I choose to paint the beautiful sunsets, forests, oceans, and lives, to remind myself as to why we are fighting for a better earth.” 


The College hosted an artist’s reception recently for Varshaa’s solo exhibit entitled “Emotions,” which is displayed in the Brown Library this fall. The 11 paintings included in the exhibit, for which Varshaa chose to use acrylic medium, were created in under three months. Varshaa has been into art since the age of four, and continued developing her skills over all these years. She has been trying out new skills at the Studio Arts class which she takes here as a Dual Enrollment class with the Craftsbury Academy. 

“I began painting with acrylics at the age of 12,” Varshaa shared. She took time off of painting during the last three years of high school and when she went back to India for the summer she “found inspiration in so many landscapes, and I began painting all over again. My first painting this summer was my idea of Vermont. The title of this art show is called ‘Emotions,’ as I painted all of them when my emotions were at its peaks. I chose to draw ‘silhouettes’ as a means of simple communication without the many details.”

Artist Statement: 

My goal through this collection is to expand my horizons, and create artwork that acknowledges the simplicity of the human mind. 

I am a focused person, yet, when it comes to my artwork, I tend to explore, try different techniques, and eventually, try to bring life into the painting. I love representing nature in my paintings. I needed to pay full attention to each and every detail. Every painting required details in color, shading technique, background ideas, and main object ideas. As a result, the viewer determines the simplicity or complexity of the painting. 

What’s next?

Varshaa plans to continue on her path at Sterling as an Environmental Humanities major and delve deeper into the visual arts. “I want to focus on painting and creating a story through my art,” she said. “Currently I’m working on my watercolor skills, and I hope to further increase my horizons. Faculty member John Zaber, has been a great sense of motivation, and his cheers for me have been my rock, especially when I feel like giving up.”

Filed Under: Blog Environmental Humanities Newsroom Uncategorized

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