Photo caption: Course Creators, Facilitators, California Outdoor Engagement Coalition staff, CNR administrators, and the cohort of Spring 2019 pose for a group photo.

Finding Community and Mentorship​: Students of Color Environmental Collective Mentorship Program

Authors: Sarah Naameh (she/her), Student Course Facilitator for Students of Color Environmental Collective Mentorship Program, UC Berkeley Class of 2021 B.S. Data Science, Minor Conservation & Resource Studies
Kelly Chang (she/her), Students of Color Environmental Collective Mentorship Program Coordinator and Co-founder, UC Berkeley Class of 2019 B.S. Society & Environment, Minor in Sustainable Design

It has been an amazing semester for the Students of Color Environmental Collective Mentorship Program. Last month, the mentorship program’s closing ceremony celebrated professional environmentalists and students of color in a vibrant display of community and a more diverse environmentalism. Lawyers, consultants, directors, journalists, business owners, educators, and students of various backgrounds and ages packed the gallery at the David Brower Center.

The program began in late 2017 by Students of Color Environmental Collective (SCEC) as a part of the collective’s #EnvironmentalismSoWhite campaign. Following that semester, the project evolved through several iterations from a student club program into a formal initiative adopted by the California Outdoor Engagement Coalition. In partnership with the California Outdoor Engagement Coalition, the SCEC program relaunched as an 2-unit undergraduate course in the College of Natural Resources (CNR) for the first time in the Spring of 2019. The goal of the program was two-fold: to provide professional support and pathways for students of color seeking careers in the environmental field and to build a greater network of environmentalists of color.

 

Photo caption: Mentor Damon Nagami, program co-founder Kristy Drutman, CNR Assistant Dean of Instruction Marques Redd, and mentor Cristina Edwards mingle as the night begins

On May 2nd, program participants, creators, facilitators, and supporters gathered at the David Brower Center for the closing event catered by the Syrian-refugee owned restaurant business, Old Damascus Fare. A feeling of camaraderie and unity permeated the air as students and mentors sat together, enjoyed delicious food and celebrated their year’s accomplishments.

During introductions and speeches from the CNR administration, directors Jon Jarvis and Jenny Mulholland-Beahrs, staff and faculty spoke in resounding support for the innovative program. Jon Jarvis, the director of the Institute of Parks, People, and Biodiversity and former director of the National Park Service shared an anecdote on how young people of color are taking the reins of the movement and on the importance of older generations to stand behind a new leadership.

 

Photo Caption: Director of the Institute of Parks, People, and Biodiversity Jon Jarvis speaks on new waves in environmentalism, led by youth of color.

Students and mentors then delivered moving and impassioned speeches, testifying to the importance of mentorship for marginalized communities. They spoke on their unique and personal identities and challenges that shape their goals and experiences in environmentalism.

 

Photo Caption: [left to right] Dylan Kennedy, Kiana Kazemi, and Elijah Butterfield share their experiences of the community and support they experience through the SCEC Mentorship Program

Students who participated in the program felt empowered on a professional level, as one mentee shared, “The mentorship experience truly helped me break into the professional environmental space. As a student, it can be difficult to gain access to exclusive events where are all the good networking happens. But when you have a great mentor who will advocate for you, exceptions can be made.”

One of the participants, Kathy Tang, shared her story of the breakthroughs she’s made. Because of this program and the mentor she was connected with, Tang shared, she was able to get her first job through the Berkeley Law for Cannabis Research Center and also got a research assistant position studying varieties in climate governance. She gushes that her research will be published in the upcoming IPCC report and the room erupts in a collective cheer.

Beyond the professional perks and development that the program has provided many students, mentorship participants have also found something deeper: a sense of belonging. Mentee Leonel Solorio shared how this program impacted him personally saying that “[This experience] meant being able to find a community of people with my shared experiences and seeing people who have gone through them and have come out successful and happy. It meant the whole world to me.”

 

Photo Captions: Kathy Tang (above) and her mentor, Cal alumnus Damon Nagami (below) give back-to-back speeches about their experiences and the mentor-mentee relationship they cultivated over the course of the semester.

Afterwards, participants were left to connect with each other and browse through the nearby digital gallery of final projects from the course, highlighting each mentee’s personal and professional growth and reflections throughout the semester.

The night was a testament to the tireless labor and love that had been put into the program by SCEC organizers Kristy Drutman, Jed Lee, Kelly Chang, Dylan Kennedy, and Sarah Naameh. It was a celebration of the diverse community that had been brought together in a fully student-led effort.

This mentorship program was created to address the lack of resources and institutional support for students of color, and the conclusion of this spring’s program exhibits that inclusive and diverse spaces in the environmental movement are possible to create and so incredibly necessary.

Photo Caption: From left to right, Mentor Audra Barrios, Mentee Satchi Thockchom, Mentor Cecelia Segal, and Mentee Alicia Hernandez-Miyares pose together

The SCEC Mentorship Program hopes to continue being inspirational and grounding for many more cohorts of mentors and mentees to come! Some students have already found friends they’re encouraging to apply come fall semester! It’s incredible to see what the program has done already and expectations and excitement are set high in the future.