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Fulbright Impact in the Field: Climate Change and Environmental Justice – Experts Discuss Environmental Justice in the Face of Climate Change

May 3, 2021

“It is exciting to see this group tackle the climate crisis from a number of different angles. This discussion is especially relevant as we come off the end of the Global Climate Summit and as governments and other actors set new targets and lay out the groundwork for what the next 10 years of action will look like.”

– Tim McDonnell, 2016 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow to Kenya, Quartz magazine climate and energy journalist

The Fulbright Impact in the Field: Climate Change and Environmental Justice panel convened scientists, researchers, and other professionals involved in combating climate change. They discussed the latest scientific and policy developments, and looked at how new approaches and international collaborations can be used to combat climate change and pursue environmental justice. These experts also shared their Fulbright experiences and the benefits of their new ideas at institutions and in communities.

Meet the Speakers

Moderator

Tim McDonnell (2016 Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow to Kenya) is a climate and energy journalist at the global business magazine Quartz, covering the clean energy transition.

Panelists

Amber Ajani (2014 Fulbright Foreign Student from Pakistan to American University) is a Climate Fellow at the UN Climate Change secretariat and a recipient of the UNFCCC-UNU Early Career Climate Fellowship.
Shalanda Baker, JD (2016 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Mexico) is the Deputy Director for Energy Justice in the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and co-founder of Initiative for Energy Justice.
Dr. M Jackson (2011 Fulbright U.S. Student to Turkey, 2015 Fulbright U.S. Student to Iceland, 2018 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Iceland) is a geographer, glaciologist, TED Fellow, Fulbright Alumni Ambassador, and National Geographic Society Explorer.
Dr. Greg Poelzer (2015 Fulbright Arctic Initiative Scholar, 2021 Fulbright Arctic Initiative Co-Lead Scholar) is a Professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS) and leads the Renewable Energy in Remote and Indigenous Communities Flagship Initiative at the University of Saskatchewan. He is also co-director of a multi-million-dollar Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Grant.

Key Takeaways

1. We need to ensure that equity is central to our clean energy transition.

How can we ensure our infrastructure investment both reduces climate pollution and benefits marginalized communities?

This is a moment to think about how to “bake” equity into a new energy system, according to Deputy Director for Energy Justice Shalanda Baker. Her position underscores a commitment to address structural issues of energy use and environmental impact. The new Justice40 Initiative, which promises that 40% of relevant federal investment will benefit disadvantaged communities, ensures that every federal infrastructure investment accelerates clean energy and transmission projects in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Dr. Greg Poelzer, a Canadian expert on renewable energy in remote and Indigenous communities, and Co-Lead Scholar of the third Fulbright Arctic Initiative, urges us to focus on the opportunity that the energy transition provides for vulnerable Indigenous communities. He advocates for using strategic environmental assessments in systemic ecosystem review, and bringing in diverse voices for better long-term stability.

2. We need to make climate science communication more effective.

How can we communicate the core meaning of amazing scientific research, so that diverse communities can access it?

Glaciologist and explorer M Jackson uses mediums like film and art, rather than scientific journal articles, to visualize the impact of change. For example, her short film After Ice reveals the breathtaking story of a rapidly disappearing frozen world by overlaying archival imagery from the National Land Survey of Iceland with contemporary footage of glaciers in the South Coast of Iceland. This provides a dramatic look at how the ice has changed over the past 50 years.

3. We need to empower sustainable development decision-makers at the local level.

How do we ensure that policy implementation addresses capacity building and community issues?

Amber Ajani, a Fulbright Foreign Student from Pakistan to American University who now works at UN Climate Change, noted that it is important to include local stakeholders in strategic impact analysis and assessments. The panelists discussed that community “buy-in,” local stakeholder consultation, and the presence local communities in the “drivers’ seat” must come at the early stages of project development, rather than having ideas from the Global North applied to developing communities. For example, ideas that come out of Brussels, Ottawa, or Washington, D.C. to create eco-preserves could have negative impacts on the livelihoods of local Arctic communities. Shalanda Baker reminds us that today’s climate debate is not ahistorical: our current situation resulted from hundreds of years of the Global North exploiting natural resources for economic development at the expense of communities in the Global South. To create equitable climate policy, we need to understand and address this history.

To watch the panelists dive into these relevant discussions, click here.

The Fulbright Impact in the Field panel series is part of the Fulbright Program’s effort to help find solutions to challenges facing our communities and our world. Free and open to the public, this series provides a digital space for Fulbright alumni to share their expert perspectives and explore the program’s impact on local and global communities.

To learn about upcoming Fulbright 75th anniversary events, and see how you can get involved, sign up for the newsletter and visit Fulbright75.org.

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Fulbright for Posterity: The Ripple Effects of Fulbright on Rural America

February 13, 2019
By Niecea Freeman, Fulbright ETA to Czech Republic 2018-2019

“How about: It’s quality, not quantity?” my dad proposed, wearing a grin. We were brainstorming city slogans for Loyalton, California, my hometown of 800 people nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains—now named “the Loneliest Town in America.”  We all laughed. On the surface, country living seems like paradise, but in reality a myriad of issues affect rural communities across the nation. Employment opportunities are sparse, lower income leads to higher instances of poverty, and—consequently—there is a clear demand and absolute need for higher quality education.

Megan Meschery and her family in Spain, 2008 Fulbright program.

When the town’s sawmill closed in 2001, followed by a mass population exodus, Loyalton’s tax revenues declined rapidly and ancillary school programming disappeared with them. First, we lost music and art specials. Later, our middle school was condemned, and students were moved from portable buildings into the high school, losing their separate facilities entirely. In truth, it has only been through the extraordinary efforts of dedicated teachers and community members that our school district has been kept afloat: teachers like my high school Spanish instructor, Megan Meschery, who are determined to redefine our local community without much funding from state or federal agencies.

In 2008, Megan left for a Fulbright grant in Granada, Spain, where she examined how rural economic development funding provided by the European Union reduced inequalities in public schools regardless of geographic location. She sought to find parallels and lessons applicable to rural education in America and to develop ways to promote cultural awareness and growth in Loyalton. While Megan’s experiences rather highlighted the differences between U.S. and EU development models, Megan also returned from her two-year Fulbright burgeoning with ideas tailored to Loyalton’s situation, and immediately found ways to introduce positive change, starting with school electives.

The Sierra Schools Foundation sponsors hands-on learning opportunities like harvesting chamomile tea flowers in the Loyalton Learning Garden.

My favorite memories from high school are from the culture club she initiated, through which I saw my first Broadway play, Wicked, and visited my first classical art exhibit, featuring masterpieces from Rembrandt and Raphael. These experiences opened my eyes to the world beyond our tiny valley, and change did not stop there.

The following year, Megan founded a non-profit organization called The Sierra Schools Foundation (SSF – sierraschoolsfoundation.org) to combat inequality in the school district by providing grants for resources and programs such as the STEM Learning Garden, Local-Artists-in-the-School, Advancing to College SAT prep, and others. I volunteered with SSF throughout college, running fundraisers, where I witnessed firsthand how, with dedication and perseverance, local organizations genuinely have power to initiate positive change.

Niecea (right) and her mentor, Martina (left) in Lanškroun’s city square, Czech Republic, 2018 Fulbright program.

These formative experiences propelled me to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in the Czech Republic for the 2018-2019 academic year, where I will be living in a rural community not unlike Loyalton, teaching English to secondary students enrolled in veterinary and agricultural programs. As an undergrad, I pursued a B.S. in Integrated Elementary Education with an emphasis in English as a Second Language with the primary goal of becoming an elementary school teacher in a high-needs, rural community in the United States. Now, I  am ready to go forward and learn from the students and families of my host country to explore new perspectives and pedagogies that will reshape the way I view myself and my role as an educator. The quantity of programs in Loyalton’s schools has stagnated, but the quality of our education can continue to blossom

Niecea with the calves at the Lanškroun Veterinary & Agriculture School dairy
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There’s No Place Like Brussels

August 3, 2018

Presenting a poster for Ph.D. Day at the de Duve Institute.

I had no idea what to expect from Brussels as I prepared to make the de Duve Institute my new lab home for the year. As a black woman and first-generation Nigerian-American, I did not know if I would see myself represented in professional or social settings in Europe. What I did know was that I would be in a supportive lab environment working with the best microbiologists in the world to combat the global threat of antibiotic resistance.

In hindsight, Belgium was the perfect fit for me academically, professionally, and socially. I established relationships with European research institutions, further prepared myself for my Ph.D. Program in the Biomedical Sciences at the University of Michigan through my research project, and made friends across the world.

One of the most rewarding experiences I had as a scientist was at our lab retreat in Cadiz, Spain, where several labs across Europe met to present our research. During a career panel discussion, I looked around the room and saw 40+ scientists but no people of color. I raised my hand and asked, “Where are the women and people of color in leadership positions? The majority of people at this retreat are women, yet all of the people in charge of these labs are white men.

Although extremely nervous, I felt obligated to be a voice for underrepresented (UR) minorities. As the only black voice, the only American voice, I could not allow the fear of asking a controversial question overshadow the opportunity to spark cross-cultural dialogue about the need for diversity in the sciences.

Spending the day at Grand Place with friends visiting from the U.S.

There was a pause followed by empathetic sighs and laughter. It was clear that they understood the gravity of my question and the paradox of discussing the need for diversity with a non-diverse panel. One of the panelists, the head of a major research institute in France, stated that they were deeply committed to diversifying STEM fields and had created task forces to increase the number of women in leadership positions. The other panelists echoed similar sentiments which prompted a passionate discussion about gender discrimination and implicit biases in STEM. Some made the point that increasing paternity leave would discourage employers from assuming that women would need more time off from their jobs than men. Others shared feelings of discouragement from seeing a room filled with female scientists only to see leadership roles filled by men. After the panel discussion, a few women expressed their gratitude for my question and I felt extremely proud for having the courage to embody the heart of the Fulbright Program.

Although my question was well-received, as the panelists and audience focused on gender, my point about race was lost. I was not surprised that this happened. Being the only person of color in the room, I recognized that people tend to focus on issues that they identify with. This further highlights the need for representation in these spaces so that UR groups will be supported and their needs addressed. Regardless, I am happy that I brought the issue to people’s attention. I hope that they will be sensitive to the challenges with representation of people of color in STEM moving forward.

Day trip to the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland with Fulbright grantees.

Related to my passion for advocating for UR groups, I created the @fulbrightnoir Instagram account to share the stories of black Fulbrighters. After meeting the first black Fulbrighters that I knew through Instagram, I wanted to encourage prospective UR applicants and UR groups within Fulbright by showcasing the diversity that exists within the program.

In addition to the @fulbrightnoir community, I connected with a Belgian woman through Instagram who introduced me to Matonge, an area central to the Congolese community in Belgium. This was the first time I was surrounded by people that looked like me and I felt right at home.

My advice to future Fulbrighters is to be open to meeting people through various platforms. Be creative, committed, and unyielding while creating your new home abroad. Social media was instrumental in building my social networks and finding social scenes that I missed direly in the U.S. Instagram connected me with a new side of Brussels that transformed my experience from great to perfect.

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Program Update: New Honduras Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Program!

June 24, 2016

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Ryan Alaniz, 2009-2010, Honduras, with his son Santiago outside their Fulbright home in Ciudad Divina Providencia heading out for a walk to the river.

 

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is now offering one English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) Award to Honduras!

The ETA will be assigned as an English language-learning assistant in Tegucigalpa at a Binational Center (BNC) affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and a teacher training college. To learn more about this new opportunity, please visit the Honduras country summary on our website.