A champion for climate justice
Jamie Stroble likes to begin her workshops with a satellite image from 2015. In it, three swirling hurricanes are barreling across the Pacific toward the Hawaiian islands, where Stroble had grown up paddling in the ocean and exploring lush mountains. When those powerful storms approached, she feared her family’s home would be flattened.
Watching ever-stronger hurricanes pummel the islands and seeing culturally significant lands disappear into the ocean is her “climate story.” It fuels her passion for addressing how families with low incomes and communities of color are increasingly impacted by climate change yet often left out of the solutions.
Stroble came to the UW with an interest in environmental and climate justice, shaped by her multiethnic childhood in Hawaiʻi. Interdisciplinary majors in environmental studies and international studies helped her shape a curriculum grounded in the sciences, international political economy and diversity studies. Understanding how the environment is connected to other issues — including housing, food, jobs, politics and culture — has prepared her for working at both scrappy nonprofits and large government employers like King County.
In every job, Stroble has tried to ensure that people of color are represented in the rooms where decisions are made. As part of the King County Climate Action Team, Stroble created the Climate Equity Community Task Force, which invited affected communities to contribute to the county’s climate action plan. That group of mostly BIPOC community members now has a permanent seat at the table.
Stroble is passionate about cultivating a new generation of environmental activists, giving them the mentorship and experiences she didn’t have.
“Opportunities to grow, especially in the environmental sector, are not often accessible to people of color,” says Stroble, who identifies as multiracial, noting that the mainstream U.S. environmental sector has been majority white. “I have to hold the door open behind me because otherwise, I’ll always be the only one.”
Coming to the rescue
As a high school student, Alyssa Scott watched scientists at Friday Harbor carve open a dead harbor seal pup to figure out why it had died. As they sliced into the scarlet tissue, exposing the animal’s inner organs, Scott was transfixed by this nitty-gritty side of research.
“Until that point, everything I had known about oceanography and marine science was very calculated, the kind of thing done in labs,” says Scott, recalling how others in her summer program walked away from the necropsy. “This was really amazing.”
Aspiring to be a hands-on marine scientist, Scott looked to the UW and its oceanography program. She hoped to spend time at the UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories, a unique marine field station in the San Juan Islands. Her senior year, she spent 10 weeks there conducting research for her thesis.
Today, Scott is back where it all began in Friday Harbor, responding to calls about stranded seals, sea lions, porpoises and whales across San Juan County. Reports peak in the summer, when the islands get an influx of both tourists and newborn harbor seals.
When a caller spots a stranded pup on a beach or a tangled whale in the water, Scott and her team head out in a 25-foot research vessel and decide how — or whether — to intervene. For example, they might move an orphaned seal pup to a known seal colony where it can find another nursing mother.
On each call they learn about the challenges animals face in the Salish Sea, from new illnesses to human activity. If the animal is already dead, the team may collect its body for a necropsy. But now Scott isn’t a curious bystander; she’s holding the shears.
“I love figuring out why animals die, because we’re learning about the risks our populations are running,” she says. “The work we do benefits not only wildlife but also humans.”
Bringing sustainability to schools
When Rina Fa’amoe-Cross ran her upholstery business, every faded sofa and broken chair was an opportunity to reuse — and reduce waste. Today, she brings that same focus on sustainability to the Seattle Public Schools as a resource conservation specialist.
The massive district — with 106 schools serving more than 50,000 students — has set the ambitious goals of becoming zero-waste by 2030 and carbon-positive in 2040. Fa’amoe-Cross keeps these in mind when she’s ordering compostable lunchroom supplies and installing motion-sensing classroom lights. She aims to keep the district running in a way that doesn’t harm the Earth.
Each school year brings new opportunities. The return to in-person learning, for example, has meant increased waste from the single-use personal protective equipment that students and teachers wear. “What I love about my work in the district is that it’s everything — transportation, procurement, how we build our buildings,” she says.
In her decade on the job, she has helped retrofit dozens of buildings to make them more energy efficient, rolled out mandatory composting across the school district and diverted uneaten food to local pantries. She’s also a go-to resource for school green teams — groups of teachers and students who band together on sustainability projects.
At the UW, Fa’amoe-Cross balanced her interdisciplinary Environmental Studies coursework with a full-time job and volunteering, which she credits with helping her land her first job. Her advice for the next generation of sustainability advocates is to seek out volunteering and internships where they can bring that environmental lens or tackle a specific project that makes the organization more sustainable. “Keep your mind open,” she advises, “because that will give you insight into the kinds of jobs that are available.”
A delicate balance
Growing up in rural Kirkland, Bobbak Talebi was aware of local pressure to develop the lush wetlands surrounding his neighborhood. As a kid, he didn’t understand why his beloved play area was being taken away.
“Now I know it’s part of growth,” says Talebi, who has to balance the interests of economic development, communities and conservation in his role as a coastal planner. “You need to have space for people to live and enjoy nature, but at the same time, there are places we don’t want to put the growth.”
With a love of the outdoors and a natural inclination toward public service, Talebi was drawn to environmental policy. After two years playing soccer at the University of Portland, he transferred to the UW, where he could keep playing elite-level college sports and explore his broad academic interests at a larger institution.
Learning from faculty researchers was a highlight of the Husky Experience for Talebi, who majored in environmental studies and community, environment and planning (CEP). Both interdisciplinary majors gave him the freedom to explore a variety of classes. But Talebi credits the self-directed CEP major — in which students work together to oversee the program — for essential skills in governance, consensus building, collaboration and conflict resolution.
Both majors prepared him well for his current role, which includes helping protect more than 3,000 miles of shoreline through the State Coastal Zone Management Program. He also works closely with community organizations and federal, tribal and local governments to tackle complex issues like shoreline erosion, sea level rise and other impacts of climate change.
“With a university like the UW, the possibilities are just endless,” Talebi says. “If there’s one thing from one class you’re excited about, you can find a class specialized in that.”
Creating environmental stewards
As a high school student taking classes at Olympic College, Bridget Talebi hadn’t thought about a major or mapped out a career path — until a conversation with a friend changed everything.
That friend pushed her to apply for a position through the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC), an environmental AmeriCorps program that provides hands-on experience and training to young adults across the state. Talebi hesitated, assuming she needed a stronger science background. But she landed the role at an environmental lab, analyzing water samples to monitor the health of Washington’s rivers. Today, some 20 years later, she’s the director of the WCC.
With an education award for her AmeriCorps service, Talebi finished her degree at UW Tacoma while working full time at the WCC in Olympia. She chose the interdisciplinary urban studies major because, she says, “I was looking for programs that would accommodate somebody who’s already professionally where they wanted to end up.” What she learned in class — whether in environmental policy, geographic information systems (GIS) or nonprofit management — she could easily put into practice in her job.
Today, Talebi is passionate about introducing young people to career paths they might not have considered, from wildland firefighting to habitat restoration.
Most of the WCC’s 285 members serve on crews stationed across the state. They build trails in parks, work on restoration projects like removing invasive plants and planting native species, and respond to disasters, such as wildfires and the recent floods in Skagit County.
Talebi wants to remind everyone — WCC members and new students alike — that “it’s OK to not have it all figured out. Take that first class. I stumbled upon my passion — and it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t just get started.”
Originally published January 2022
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