Every year Earth Island Institute’s New Leaders Initiative recognizes six young environmental activists from North America, ages 13 to 22, for their outstanding efforts to promote ecological sustainability and social justice. We are excited to announce the recipients of this year’s Brower Youth Awards. The 2014 winners are:
Tiffany Carey thinks environmental research projects that don’t involve community members are troubling. So when, as an environmental studies major at the University of Michigan, she had the chance to conduct her own research, she chose a project that involved students from Detroit’s Western International High School. Carey’s research focused on pollen as a cause of high rates of asthma and allergies in urban areas. During the course of three years, the public school’s ninth and tenth grade biology students placed homemade pollen collectors in vacant lots, parks, and other areas in the community to measure the levels of ragweed pollen, which is notorious for causing allergic reactions. The research project verified that vacant lots were pollen-abundant areas. Carey then focused her attention on solutions like urban reforestation and mowing, which would help reduce ragweed in urban areas. She also tracked the impact that participating in the citizen science project had on the students and found that hands-on practice of the scientific method helped make ecology relevant to the high schoolers.
During a visit to her homeland, Nepal, as an ethnographic research assistant, Tsechu Dolma learned that the villagers of Geling, in the Upper Mustang region, were worried about how erratic weather patterns brought on by climate change were impacting their food and water security. When Dolma returned to the US, she consulted with Nepalese expats and academics on how to help make Geling villagers, who are mostly subsistence farmers, climate resilient. With funds from the Rubin Foundation and Columbia University, Dolma went back to Nepal to study the success and failures of past development projects. Based on her findings, Dolma proposed building a community greenhouse with locally sourced material. The villagers unanimously supported the idea. Dolma had also learned that Nepal’s decade-long civil war and environmental degradation had made village youth feel that they had no future. She proposed that the greenhouse be built in a school so that it would provide a platform for intergenerational sharing and collaboration. Dolma hopes the Geling greenhouse will serve as a model of climate resiliency and local ownership in rural communities worldwide.
After participating in a five-day march against strip-mining Blair Mountain in West Virginia in 2011, Jackson Koeppel became committed to exploring alternatives to the extractive economy. While on a summer program in Highland Park, MI, that same year, Koeppel found a cause he could get behind. Highland Park is part of the Detroit metropolitan area and the city’s population had dropped by more 80 percent since the auto factories left the area. In 2011, about 1,000 of the city’s 1,500 streetlights were decommissioned by the local utility to ameliorate a $4 million municipal debt. Residential streets were left in the dark. In response, Koeppel co-founded Souladarity – a community organization that’s coordinating the installation of 200 solar streetlights and organizing a cooperative of residents, businesses, organizations, and institutions. The cooperative will maintain the streetlights with annual membership dues. The solar streetlights are affordable, environment-friendly, and provide a powerful avenue for engaging local citizens in conversations about sustainability and community resilience.
As a native Floridian, Sean Russell grew up enjoying life near the ocean. His interest in protecting marine environments was sparked by his involvement in 4-H marine science projects, as well as a high school internship at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. When he was 16, he created the Stow It-Don’t Throw It Project, an effort to combat the negative impact of marine debris – especially discarded fishing line and gear – on marine wildlife. Youth involved with the project turn re-purposed tennis ball containers into fishing line recycling bins and distribute them to anglers while educating them about the importance of proper disposal of their line. Since its launch, the project has expanded to engage youth and partner organizations in 10 states. In 2011 Russell launched the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit at the Mote Lab. This annual summit provides youth with the skills needed to launch their own conservation projects and has inspired hundreds of students across the country to get involved in ocean conservation. A series of satellite summits are starting this year, beginning with the National Aquarium and the Seattle Aquarium.
Doorae Shin fell in love with Hawai‘i as a freshman at the University of Hawaii’s Mānoa campus on O‘ahu. The state’s majestic mountains and breathtaking coasts captivated the East Coast native. But while walking through campus and around the island she noticed EPS foam (better known as Styrofoam) food packaging littering the streets and sidewalks. Shin soon learned about the devastating impact Styrofoam debris has on marine ecosystems. In the fall of 2012, with help from the Surfrider Foundation, Shin led a group of students on a petition drive calling for a ban on Styrofoam products on campus. The petition gathered 1,000 signatures and the university passed a resolution banning single-use foam packaging from all campus dining locations. Following this victory, Shin spent two years campaigning to get the state to ban Styrofoam products. When the initiative failed, she joined an effort pushing a county bill to ban Styrofoam on O‘ahu, which is also home to the state capital. Shin will soon start working as the first student sustainability coordinator for the University of Hawai‘i system.
Lynnea Shuck spearheaded the creation and implementation of the Junior Refuge Ranger Program at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge to educate youth about the critical role wildlife refuges play in protecting threatened and endangered species. It was her own volunteer experience at the wildlife refuge in Alviso, CA that inspired Shuck to create a program that would reach out to children in the community. Through a series of labs, habitat hikes, and birding expeditions, the Junior Refuge Ranger program teaches children ages 8 to 11 important lessons about conservation, endangered species protection, habitat restoration, and environmental awareness. The participants come away with an appreciation of nature and the critical role they play in protecting it. Shuck hopes to expand the program to all the 555 refuges within the National Wildlife Refuge System. To make that possible, she has created a How-To Guide so that every refuge can implement the program with ease.
Join us for the 15th Annual Brower Youth Awards on October 21 at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco. To reserve your free seat, or to purchase tickets for the VIP reception where you can meet the winners, visit: www.broweryouthawards.org
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