Teaching Students to Advocate for the Environment

By Erica Mattison, '03

The Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM) has launched the Environmental Fellows Program, an exciting new opportunity for college students to prepare for careers in environmental advocacy. I am so proud to be able to help college students learn the kinds of skills I developed at UMass so they will be able to serve as effective advocates on issues that are important to them.

As a student at UMass, I was honored to be among the first group of students to receive a Leader of the 21st Century Award in 2003. Now, through my work at the ELM, I’m helping students at UMass and other schools across the Commonwealth fulfill their own leadership potential and maximize their impact on environmental issues. My experiences at UMass helped me build valuable skills in community organizing, advocacy, and raising environmental awareness. As a campus news writer for the Daily Collegian, I interviewed John Pepi, who heads up the university’s recycling program. I’d been passionate about environmental issues since I was in elementary school, so I was excited to learn that there were opportunities to work as a recycling peer educator. I also served as a political organizer, coordinating UMass student involvement for some statewide, congressional, and presidential campaigns. Many an hour was spent in the Campus Center, hosting tables and recruiting volunteers, as well as organizing students to register voters.

I built on my UMass experiences after graduation, working on a presidential campaign, at the State House, and as the first Campus Sustainability Coordinator at my graduate school. For the past two and a half years I’ve been the Legislative Director at ELM, which, like UMass has a long history of contributing to the Commonwealth.

ELM is a small team that is dedicated to protecting the health of our environment and citizenry by safeguarding the land, water and air of our Commonwealth. In the late 19th century, our founders were central in the formation of the state park system. ELM is active advocating on Beacon Hill for environmental protection laws, funding for state environmental agencies, and implementation of existing laws.

I’m excited to be involved in developing the new Environmental Fellows Program. Through this program, dozens of college students from UMass and other schools are learning skills that will help them gain employment and empower them to advocate for important issues like fighting climate change and ensuring clean water and healthy communities. Through trainings, on-campus projects, and lobby days at the State House, participants are learning how state government works and how they can play a role in policymaking.

Being an effective advocate is not something people are born with. It takes guidance and hands-on experience. And that’s what ELM is providing to students from a variety of majors and backgrounds. With our help, these students are developing skills that will position them to be change agents on their campuses, in their communities, and in the Commonwealth at-large.

Alycia Steele, a UMass Boston junior, Environmental Science major, Clean and Sustainable Energy minor, is participating in the program’s first cohort. She recently shared some feedback:

"I've known for years that I wanted to educate people on the impact humans have on the environment, but figuring out how I can truly make a difference has been difficult. As a student who does not come from a family with experience in advocacy, I have often felt like I needed guidance on how to advocate, but didn’t know where to get this. Fortunately for me, I found out about the Environmental Fellows Program run by the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

After just a couple of sessions, I learned practical information and techniques to help me be an effective advocate for environmental protection. ELM has also provided me with something that goes far beyond any skill that can be learned. Hearing the insight of those who are currently active and successful in the field has given me the confidence to take steps forward in becoming an advocate.

In the past, I always felt I needed to do something big in order to really make a difference. The staff at ELM have provided me with reassurance that starting small and building a foundation is an effective way to begin my path, dissolving any doubt I had about being able to fulfill my passion and have a career in environmental advocacy." 

To donate to the Environmental League of Massachusetts, follow the link provided and click on Add to My Donation Basket, or use the code 700383 on your paper pledge form.