With its launch in the Fall of 2020, the Climate Action Fellowship program offers students from various backgrounds and disciplines the opportunity to deeply engage in collaborative thinking and skill development on how to confront the climate crisis in meaningful ways.
Fellows work together (and with partners and mentors) to identify their own roles and theories of change while supporting the engaged learning pillar of Energy2028. They coordinate with groups on campus and in the community through a mix of defined projects and projects of their own design to envision pathways for all students to leave Middlebury with the knowledge, motivation, and capacity to act on climate change in just and equitable ways.
Each cohort spends the summer working with a relevant organization or tackling an independent project, coming together to compare notes and build community together. They begin their work thinking about the following:
- How do you think change happens?
- What does a better world look like to you?
- How can Middlebury ensure that all students leave equipped to tackle climate change?
- How might your work as a Fellow support that? What perspectives and backgrounds might you bring to the table?
- What kind of work do you hope to do after graduation?
- What other questions would you want to explore as a group/individual?
In returning to campus in the fall, their projects focus on a variety of themes including but not limited to:
- Working with departments, centers, and student groups on climate change integration
- Planning and implementing communications efforts
- Coordinating speakers, trainings, and other events
- Working with data to better understand needs, opportunities, and impacts
- Connecting with alumni on career pathways and toolkits
- Connecting beyond Middlebury (other schools, external organizations, etc)
2021-2022 Climate Action Fellowship
Our second cohort of Fellows includes:
- Jessica Buxbaum (she/her) ‘23, Environmental Economics and Food Studies
- Summer internship: Climate Economy Action Center of Addison County (CEAC) and Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN)
- Hamia Sophia Fatima (she/her) ‘24, Conservation Biology and Anthropology
- Summer internship: Vermont Business Strategy and Consulting Internship
- Kate Goodman (she/her) ‘24 *Returning
- Summer internship: Davis Project for Peace supporting immigrants in detention
- Jiaqi Li (she/her) ‘22, Computer Science and Geology
- Summer internship: National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation of Atmospheric Research (NCAR/UCAR)
- Christine Nabung (she/her) ‘22, Environmental Justice
- Summer internship: supporting undocumented students
- Francine Newman (she/her) ‘24, Environmental Anthropology and Creative Writing
- Summer internship: Adirondack Experience Museum’s Diversity Initiative and Education Fellowship
- Andrés Oyaga (he/him) ‘23, Environmental Justice and Food Studies
- Summer internship: Knoll Organic Garden, Middlebury College
- Julia Ulsh (she/her) ‘24 *Returning
- Summer internship: Rodale Institute
- Remi Welbel (she/her) ‘22, Neuroscience and Dance
- Summer Internship: Zumwalt Acres farm and Chicago Children’s Hospital
- Clara Wolcott (she/her) ‘22, Environmental Studies/Architecture and Chinese
- Summer internship: Vermont Farmer’s Food Center (VFFC)
2020-2021 Climate Action Fellows
Mishka Banuri ’24
Salt Lake City, Utah
Moving to Utah gave me love for natural landscapes that I’ve never really experienced before. I was first brought to climate action because my understanding of my faith, Islam, called me to do so. Its emphasis on the connections between people and the environment, showed me the importance of fighting for both.
Very quickly, I began to notice the lack of conversation I was seeing around intergenerational organizing around climate justice in mainstream spaces. What’s impacted me most in my thinking around climate action has been being surrounded by people who see climate justice linked to the liberation for all marginalized people globally. It’s only my first year at Midd, so I’m still learning about what more needs to be done for climate justice. As a Fellow, I’ve learned how important education is, and how much more I have to learn. I’m really excited to have more conversations around the connections between climate action, abolition, just transitions, and to learn from the people around me. I’ve always seen my role as someone who can bring people together in learning spaces, because we all have so much to learn. I think as a community, we should push for more conversations of justice, move beyond focusing on just individual actions to save the environment, and tap into the collective power that we have!
Kate Goodman ’24
Eva Morgan ’22
I’m a junior and it’s taken me two years to get involved with climate justice here at Middlebury. In high school, when I found out I was going to Middlebury, I was excited to be attending college with such a rich history of environmentalism and with such an active climate justice community on campus. Growing up, my mom was very active in the environmental movement and I got involved through her. I thought that I would strengthen that involvement in college, and in High School I even thought that Environmental Science was what I wanted to pursue at Middlebury. So why did it take me two years to get involved in such an active topic on campus?
Upon arriving at Middlebury I was impressed by all of the incredible well-spoken activists on campus. I was in awe of their leadership skills, their deep wells of knowledge, and their ability to convey messages. I was intimidated by being in a space with all of these passionate and intelligent people and so I took a step back because I didn’t think I was able to add anything to the movement.
When I was growing up, there was such a huge emphasis placed on leadership and ambition, and I think a lot of people at Middlebury grew up in a similar culture. Many of us were taught to take initiative and to stand out from the crowd. In many ways this is a good thing, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the only way to participate in something.
When I backed away from participating in environmentalism at Middlebury, I didn’t really think about why. I assumed it was because I was busy, or because the weight of the climate crisis was too much for me to think about on a regular basis. I think these things are true, but they’re not the whole picture.
Through participating in the Climate Action Capacity Project this semester and through being exposed to so many incredible voices on campus, I was able to figure out that a large part of why it took me two years to get involved with environmentalism on campus is because I was intimidated by the insanely accomplished people already on campus. I thought that because I wasn’t at that same level I didn’t have anything to add.
I don’t think my experience is unique. I think many people who grow up being taught to show off their leadership skills find it difficult to take part in something that they might not be the best or most experienced at. It feels so silly to talk about this in regards to activism surrounding such a huge crisis – of course we need all hands on deck. But I do think that this is a prominent barrier for some – apparently it was for me.
I didn’t explicitly think that I needed to be a leader of climate activism on campus, but I thought that in order for this to be beneficial to anyone, I needed to somehow contribute and I didn’t think that I could in a meaningful way given the experience of everyone else in that same space. I didn’t think I had the skills or knowledge to add to the movement on campus or on a larger scale.
I think that throughout last summer and this semester I’ve realized that “contributing” to the climate activism on campus is not as black and white as I thought that it was initially. People add and support in different ways, and there are so many aspects to being a part of this community that are valuable. The barrier of knowledge and experience is one that I placed on myself and I’m so glad that I was able to break through it so I can listen to, learn from, and support the incredible voices we have on campus.
No matter where someone is in their knowledge of the climate crisis, their presence is valuable as this is an emergency and we do need all hands on deck. In acknowledging everyone’s value in participating in the crisis, we also need to acknowledge that many people don’t feel welcome in this movement. I think that in more recent years, the Middlebury environmental community has made more of an effort to reach out to underrepresented voices and marginalized identities in order to increase the inclusivity of the environmental space. These efforts are super important, but it’s hard to erase the extremely racist past of the environmental movement and have people feel safe and welcome in a space that has been guarded from them for so long. We need to do everything in our power to open up these communities and to make everyone feel invited and welcomed. BIPOC individuals and marginalized communities are feeling the effects of the climate crisis to a greater degree that people in positions of privilege which makes it even more crucial for environmental spaces to be more inclusive.
One way I think that the Middlebury environmental community could make their spaces more inclusive is by understanding and accepting that people are at different places in their climate activism. I’m not a vegan. I’m not even vegetarian. I know that making that decision not to eat animal products would make a huge impact (as huge as an individual impact can be), but I also know that at this stage in my life, I don’t feel like I can do that. I don’t think that not being able to cut out animal products for whatever reason be should exclude me from participating in climate activism.
I think people have an idea of what a climate activist is and when they don’t fit that exact mold, it’s hard to want to put yourself in those spaces where you might get judged for not fitting that mold. As I said earlier, this is an all hands on deck situation. Whether or not you’re vegan, whether or not you use plastic water bottles, whether or not your family drives a hybrid, whether or not you’re an experienced hiker, whether or not you even enjoy the outdoors, your participation is needed and our inclusivity should reflect that. We need to have all hands on deck at Middlebury and on a global level, and in order to do that we need to make sure that no one feels judged or shamed for where they are in their knowledge or experience of the climate crisis.
Natalie Penna ’24
I am drawn to organizing around climate action because of not only how urgent the need for climate action is, but also how intertwined the climate crisis is with almost every other humanitarian and ecological crisis. My previous work in organizing, particularly with organizations from home such as the New York Youth Climate Leaders, has shaped my thinking surrounding climate action, as it has highlighted the importance of a multi-pronged approach to activism to achieve both small-scale victories and large-scale, systemic changes.
I hope that at Middlebury, we can effectively connect with the people of Addison County to make sure that any of the school’s movement towards sustainability is just and rooted in practices that will benefit the people living in the surrounding areas. Right now, I’m happy to have found a community of impassioned people, through this fellowship and other groups on campus. Going forward, I think that we should focus heavily on building the broadest coalition we can so that the needs of everyone, both on and off campus, are met, and Midd’s shift towards sustainability is based in justice. Being a Fellow has shown me the importance of boosting engagement with the climate crisis through a variety of events and actions, such as our Ayana Johnson event.
I came into Midd thinking that I wanted to go into environmental science to combat the climate crisis. I am now realizing, through this fellowship and through listening to various speakers, faculty members, and students, that all skills are important in fighting the climate crisis. Because of this, I’m not yet sure of what path I’d like to pursue with the rest of my studies, but I know that I will use them to help fight for the world I’d like to see.
Elizabeth Reyes ’22
In the eighth grade, I went on a camping trip with my school as a part of our senior trip. They took all 90 of us on cheese buses, hours away from the city. I experienced many firsts on this trip – first hike, first campfire, first smore. It was also one of the first times I noticed how different my life in the city was compared to all the people on the drive up to the site. I’m Elizabeth, a junior Environmental Justice major from The Bronx, NY.
The Bronx is the birthplace of hip hop. It’s home to the New York Yankees, some of the best food in the world, A boogie wit da Hoodie, and the biggest park in the city (yes…Pelham Bay Park is bigger than Central Park). The Bronx is also known for its environmental injustices and racism. The South Bronx peninsula is surrounded by highways, fossil fuel power plants, waste treatment facilities, and large delivery warehouses. We have some of the lowest air quality and highest asthma rates in the country. I’m passionate about climate action because my community deserves better – everyone does.
I’m excited to be a part of the Climate Action Capacity Project. It’s thrilling to see the growth of Middlebury prioritizing justice in our conversations about the environment. With that being said, I think it’s crucial to address how alienating the environmental scene at Middlebury is for a lot of students on campus. We all come from different experiences and no two environments are ever the same and we should prioritize making campus a space where everyone feels like they’re able to safely participate. As a fellow, I look forward to working towards that.
Maria Than ’21
I am drawn to climate change work because I believe it is something that significantly impacts my future and the future of our planet and society at large. We all contribute to producing waste and we should take responsibility and ownership for it. Climate change is something that cannot be left for the next generation to solve. It is important that we start now.
Growing up in Oregon, I’ve had the privilege of being surrounded by nature and taught from a young age the pressing importance of climate change. As a person with asthma, I am highly sensitive to air quality. This past summer, Portland has experienced hazardous air quality due to the forest fires that have swept the west coast and will only increase with time. The material manifestation of climate change can no longer be ignored.
Coming to Middlebury, I remember being surprised at how clean the air was. It was shocking when I returned home and my acne started to flare up! Over the past four years at Middlebury, I’ve learned a lot about equity and justice through various classes, workshops, and speakers. As a liberal arts college, it is imperative that students leave Middlebury understanding issues and build skills necessary to engage with the outside world.
Over the course of this past semester, I’ve started the beginning of a collaborative research project to hopefully help Middlebury implement an Environmental Justice and Power distribution requirement to the curriculum. This past year, there has been a lot of talk about creating a more inclusive society. I hope that this distribution requirement shows that climate change and environmentalism affects everyone, but disproportionately those who live in poor and or BIPOC communities. As a Fellow, I’ve been thinking about how this fellowship can engage Middlebury students more. This fellowship has gotten me to actively start conversations about climate change with other students. I’ve learned a lot about the Middlebury community and how climate change has impacted the communities that my friends come from. So many students at Middlebury care about climate change. While there seems to be a disconnect/misunderstanding that the Energy2028 project is an “administration” initiative, it took student activism to get it approved. I think the Energy2028 forum this year is a great opportunity for the student body to work collaboratively with the administration to move forward Energy 2028.
I also think it important to acknowledge the emotional labor it takes to face these existential, broader societal issues especially in COVID times. A lot of students and young adults are worried about their futures. Activism and work should also go hand in hand with healing and self-care. Currently, I think of climate change as a big photo, but the image is pixelated. As each person awakens, they see the image becomes clearer. We see that issues that we need to face and how interconnected all of our societal issues of race, class, health, climate change, etc… I think we have to get everyone to see the unpixellated picture. While it can be a rude awakening, it is necessary to understand that what we are working towards isn’t a future for one individual, but for society as a whole. I’m excited to where this can lead us in the future as we move forward into 2021, there are so much exciting projects, speakers, and Energy2028 to look forward to! This Fellowship as taught me to not allow doubt or fear paralyze me and that every day there is an opportunity to move the needle.
Julia Ulsh ’24
Both of my parents met while working in the National Forest Service, traveling across the country and surveying our precious preserved lands. To this day, my mother still works for the government on engineering sustainable practices for local farms. With all of this, environmental consciousness has been instilled in me from a young age. My family often discusses climate change in both political and emotional manners, inspiring me to study Environmental Science at Middlebury College, while also pursuing action outside of the classroom with this fellowship, the Sunrise Movement, and volunteer work with the USDA-NRCS.
One of my favorite aspects of Middlebury College is its commitment to sustainability through Energy2028 and the Climate Action Capacity Project. Going forward, the college needs to keep these promises and continue to set examples for other schools. This includes switching to 100% renewable energy and investing in similar projects in the community, while also committing to educating all students on prominent climate issues.
During my brief semester at Middlebury College, I have become so much more educated about idigneous peoples and atrocities occurring against them, especially in relation to the environment. I was rather ignorant to these problems before, and am appreciative of the fellowship for providing me a format with which to learn.
In the future, I would like to continue working with the Climate Action Capacity Project to bring in important speakers, and brainstorm approaches to teaching students about climate change.
Connor Wertz ’22
Sometimes, I think I try to be too scared of the future.
Not that there isn’t a hell of a lot to be afraid of - there is. We have more uncertainties than ever to keep us up at night. I don’t think our grandparents or parents thought much about whether having kids was a good idea or not, or whether wildfires or hurricanes would disrupt the places they chose to put down roots. Now, though, finding the answers to these questions are as dominating as the rest of the litany of choices we need to make as we prepare to leave Middlebury, as important as choosing our majors or careers.
And yet engaging with what could be - working in the future tense as much as the present tense - offers so much more than just fear. I am not an imaginative person, but it’s impossible not to be part of the climate justice movement without also believing in all of the ways in which we can be a part of creating a future that is so much better than the reality we live in now! What if instead of dreading what comes after college, we lived in a society in which we could pursue our passions? What if we didn’t have to worry about a job that gave us good benefits, because we have collectively decided that healthcare and insurance and well-being are more important than income? What if we became more than what we produce?
In spite of the terrifying news reports and the grandparents who tell us “it’s up to you to fix what we’ve messed up” and the anxieties that so often rule my psyche and the psyche of my friends, the prospect of building something better than we could even imagine is what keeps me up at night.
I won’t lie and say that fear of the unknown - and a certainty that these unknowns are increasing at a dizzyingly fast rate - have drawn me into an interest in climate action. At times, it feels like blissful ignorance not to entertain the potentially apocalyptic scenarios that our generation is becoming increasingly accustomed to. As the saying goes, may you live in interesting times is a curse more than anything else; on my more pessimistic days I can’t help but think that the dumpster fire of 2020 is symbolic of all the storms that are yet to come.
But perhaps “may you live in interesting times” is more than just a curse; our interesting times can be the wake up call that we so desperately need, an opportunity to re-order the values that we choose to live by. If you’ve ever lamented the difficulty of growing up, my advice is this: start working on something that’s bigger than yourself. It’s the best way to believe that your own future can be better than what you’re told it will be.
This is why I appreciate what’s happening at Middlebury. Three years ago, I stepped foot on our campus thinking that we were the college of Bill McKibben, of net-zero energy and solar panels and organic gardens. Now, though, I see that we are the generation that will take the climate movement and make it an everything movement - a place where our comp sci majors and pre-med tracks have as large a role to play as those who have class in Hillcrest. Where heading into town with a Black Lives Matter sign this past semester is as important as skipping a Friday class to participate in the Climate Strikes of last year. And - perhaps most importantly - where learning how to care for ourselves and for our friends is more important than learning about feedback loops or having a polished Midd2Midd resume.
Although I’m still not used to saying this, as much as I’m terrified about that future, I’m excited about it too.