Vallejo, CA, United StatesAge: 29
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I was not educated about environmental issues until college. During my freshman year, I attended a workshop on global warming and immediately catapulted into action. My mission since has been to provide children with the environmental education that I did not receive at a young age. Remembering how I learned best as a young girl, I created the concept of “eco-rhymes” by bringing new meaning to familiar children’s songs, changing the lyrics to deliver environmental messages. With the help of my mother, we created the book and CD entitled, “Save Queen Green! Mother Nature’s Eco-Rhymes.” We brought the concept to life by delivering live, interactive performances to schools, libraries, green festivals, and other children’s events. I have taken on the role of Queen Green, the main character of the book, to sing and dance with students while instilling the message of protecting our planet. I built on this concept while completing my Master’s degree in Urban Sustainability from Antioch University Los Angeles, and created a camp curriculum that merges science and the arts with a focus on sustainability.
Alongside these efforts, I have pursued a career in state government. I began working for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) in 2013 as a Recycling Specialist and am currently a Legislative Analyst. I have also led youth engagement efforts as part of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s (CalEPA) Environmental Justice Task Force to increase environmental literacy and encourage civic engagement amongst youth facing environmental justice issues.
What inspired you to become a champion for the environment and environmental education?
“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” - John F. Kennedy
I did not grow up with environmental values; therefore, I had no concept of the environment around me, nor did I understand how I impacted it. In college, I began learning about about the urgency and severity of climate change, and I credit Dr. Brian Treanor for inspiring me to become a champion for the environment. He described the earth’s warming as a car crash waiting to happen; inevitable, but we have the power slow down the process before we crash.
Knowing that this work is necessary is what motivates me to continue. At one point I simply knew too much about the problem to not do anything about it. It became a moral obligation. When I first started this work, I couldn’t understand why everyone else wasn’t taking action. I was inspired to act because I understood the magnitude of the problem and the consequences of inaction, but I now realize that approach does not work for everyone. There is a fine line between conveying the severity of the problem and causing people to feel overwhelmed, apathetic, or hopeless. I am forever grateful to have had great educators and mentors fueling my passion and guiding my way to be a part of the solution.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders that are looking to bring about positive change in their communities through EE?
The first piece of advice I would give to the next generation of leaders is: don’t burn out. Take care of yourself. When I talk about the concept of sustainability to kids, I break it down to first look at what you, as an individual, need to sustain yourself. Make sure your needs are met and that you are not making too many sacrifices.
Second, if you see something that needs to be fixed or changed, or if you see a gap or an opportunity, don’t assume that someone else is going to do something about it. Step up, take initiative, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, because that is how you grow. You don’t have to wait for someone older or with more experience, and you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. Initiative, hard work, determination, and a good attitude will get you far.
Lastly, there is room for everyone in the field of EE and in the environmental movement; artists, engineers, writers, scientists. The more diverse the experiences, the better our programs can be for students, and the more inclusive we can be as a movement. Sometimes all it takes is one seed to be planted in a student’s mind to set them on a path towards being a part of the solution. Never stop being a student yourself. You don't know what you don't know. I am a strong believer in lifelong learning, since it is crucial to keep expanding your knowledge. Strive to keep that youthful sense of wonder and keep asking, "why?"
Who do you look up to as inspiration for your work?
I look up to the thousands of young people who are rising up in their local communities as inspiration. Students around the world are energized and empowered to make change and challenge the status quo. I am impressed by not only the knowledge, but also the tenacity young people have. Witnessing students finding their voice and using it for good is what inspires me. Watching students rise up because they know it is their future that is in jeopardy is what fuels my work. We have to keep fighting for a better future, and this next generation of young people are not afraid to ask the hard, and sometimes uncomfortable, questions. They realize there is too much to lose.
What pro-environmental behavior do you think would make a big impact if everyone in the world started doing it?
Becoming civically engaged. There is only so much that we, as individuals, can do to make an impact. But, if likeminded individuals come together and amplify their voices at a community scale, we can make meaningful change. Moving from individual actions to collective change at a local level can have a ripple effect across communities and lead to change at the state, federal, and even global level. We have raised our voices about our politicians not representing us, and we must match that with an organized and united front to make our voices heard and push for change. Pro-environmental behavior at the individual level is important, but moving towards collective, civic engagement is what can make a big impact.