It’s no secret our environment is in crisis. Land conservation is an environmental justice issue that affects climate change, safeguards cultural heritage, improves communities’ access to clean air, water, and recreation, and much more. Yet, despite our region’s striking diversity, few people of color work with, serve, or lead local conservation and environmental groups. Important land use decisions therefore seldom reflect Virginia’s human diversity.
That’s why UMW’s Virginia Conservation Fellowship (VCF) program was established – to make a difference. Now in its third year, the VCF is a prestigious, selective, yearlong work/study program for juniors or seniors of color and other groups underrepresented in Virginia environmentalism. With the slogan “More than an internship,” VCF is explicitly designed to kick-start motivated students’ environmental careers.
What is a “fellowship?” Like a scholarship, a fellowship provides monetary support, but also much more. Over two semesters, VCF fellows gain professional experience, skills, and academic credit for work and research coordinated with two established, pro-conservation non-profits: the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) and Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR). Embedded within their respective organization, fellows pursue interests in environmental science, conservation advocacy, land use policy, communication, or similar areas. Importantly, fellows also learn how an organization works, equipping them to become leaders themselves. They attend board meetings, do fieldwork, help fundraise, and more as true members of a non-profit team. In short, becoming a VCF fellow is a serious accomplishment. In addition to valuable work experience, it gives fellows “a leg up” on graduate school and job applications.
The VCF selection committee includes Director of the Center for Community Engagement Sarah Dewees, Biology Prof. Andrew Dolby, Environmental Sciences Prof. Ben Kisila, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Director of Multicultural Affairs Marion Sanford, and Political Science Prof. (and program founder) Ranjit Singh.
Krystal Lightell and DJ Washington are this year’s VCF fellows. Krystal works with Friends of the Rappahannock, and DJ is with the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. Both are UMW seniors and conservation biology majors.
“Everyone on the staff has taken the time to introduce me to not one, but many aspects to running an environmental non-profit organization such as restoration projects, education, advocacy, and social media. As a fellow, I have had the chance to dip my feet in many different projects that have taught me skills I can use in my future endeavors.” Krystal Lightell
The previous year’s fellow, Julia Gasink, graduated with a major in biology and certificate in Geographic Information Systems. Students from any major program are invited to apply. For 2023-2024, the fellowship program is also open to students from George Mason University. Read more here: https://academics.umw.edu/communityengagement/about/virginia-conservation-fellowship/.
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