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Tipping the scales of environmental justice

Nelson Institute alumna and changemaker Angélica Sánchez is bringing hope and healing to communities around the world through inclusive education and outreach

June 18, 2019

Growing up, in Guadalajara, Mexico, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies alumna Angélica Sánchez experienced both the positive and negative impacts of urban living. Although she moved to northern Wisconsin when she was twelve, those impacts weighed heavily on Sánchez, fueling her desire to increase environmental justice and support for children living in large urban areas such as Guadalajara. In an effort to be a part of the solution, Sánchez majored in Conservation and Environmental Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A first generation college student, Sánchez saw the value of expanding her knowledge of environmental justice, so she connected with Nelson Institute International and Professional Programs Director, Nathan Schulfer, who introduced her to the Environmental Conservation Professional Master’s program (EC).

A 15-month program designed to train conservation leaders in practical interdisciplinary skills, the EC program features in-person and online courses as well as a three-month professional leadership experience. The program introduces professionals to a wide range of curricula, including conservation planning, land use policy, applied GIS, and strategic communications. Students also engage in a three-month internship, allowing them to receive hands-on experience addressing some of the most urgent challenges in conservation and environmental protection. For Sánchez, this program offered her the perfect hands-on opportunity to connect with communities and create change in urban areas.

“During my undergraduate education, I focused on the social aspect of the environment, so I was excited to join this program and really dig into that,” said Sánchez. “At Nelson, I was able to take a lot of classes that helped me learn to work with communities and stakeholders, but the best part was completing my hands-on experience with Conservation International out of Washington, D.C.”

Conservation International is a non-profit that works to preserve nature through policy, science, and partnerships with communities across the world. Interested in environmental justice and community –building with stakeholders, Sánchez partnered with Conservation International to study the integration of gender into conservation initiatives. Through her work, Sánchez found that “women are change makers” and her research indicated the “important role women have in the success of community-driven conservation initiatives.”

“Throughout the project, I got to interview different stakeholders and learn how they were bringing women to the table on conservation issues,” Sánchez said. “It’s important to have all voices at the table. When it comes to conservation we need to make sure all people feel involved and feel that ownership, like they’re being represented. Working with an international organization and people from different countries and across different projects, was wonderful and I really used what I learned from the EC program, like grant writing and conservation planning, in a real-life way.”

After graduation from the EC program in 2016, Sánchez continued her environmental justice efforts, joining the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a Bilingual Environmental Educator. The Urban Ecology Center offers a number of services to the community, but one of its main goals is to “restore hope and heal our urban natural world, neighborhood by neighborhood.” In her role with the organization, Sánchez provides environmental and outdoor education to children living in Milwaukee.

“Every day I have the chance to pick up kids right from their school and take them on an outdoor adventure, connecting them to our green spaces through outdoor exploration based learning and hands on experiments” said Sánchez. “We get to nourish positive relationships between children and their environment in hopes that we create a generation with environmental literacy.”

For Sánchez, working as Environmental Educator in Milwaukee is a step towards her goal of increasing environmental justice for children who live in densely populated urban areas.

“One of the more valuable things I got from the EC program is the idea that you look at the big picture and you get working on the small picture,” said Sánchez. “That’s what I’m hoping to do here.”