This month’s edition of Change Agent Profile covers Cora Ellenson-Myers, Clean Water Campaign Organizer with Environment Minnesota.
Written by guest blogger Kristen Peterson
Cora Ellenson-Myers is is a Clean Water Campaign organizer with Environment Minnesota. She a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities’ Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management program after which she moved directly into her campaign work. I sat down to talk with her about her motivation, her work, and her future goals to protect the environment and make sustainable change.
When established member of the nonprofit community reflects back upon her life, it’s easy to see how events transpired to create her success. The Twin Cities community is home to many of these successful, inspiring leaders who work on sustainability issues every day. Their paths often seem very clear in hindsight, as if they knew exactly what they wanted to do all along. However, in reality most lives and careers do not unfold so predictably. In order to better understand how young sustainability leaders begin their careers, I decided to interview a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota. I wanted to find out how someone who is hoping to use her education to lead sustainable change in the world views her next steps in terms of her career and future.
Cora is only at the beginning of her career, but she is already leading communities and working toward sustainability goals. As I interviewed Cora in the kitchen of her sunny apartment, I ended up with more questions than I had gone in with.
I first wanted to know how Cora impacted environmental issues on a day-today basis. As a campaign organizer for Environment Minnesota, Cora spends most of her time working to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act in order to ensure that our water supply is clean and usable for people and wildlife alike. Cora works on these issues primarily by planning events, communicating with the media, building coalitions, training interns, and using social media to gain support for clean water issues. She feels that some of her most valuable efforts include working with coalitions because she has been able to make real change alongside professionals in the water quality field this way. Cora also feels effective and empowered when she can directly impact elected officials, small businesses, and nonprofits. She enjoys helping these people get involved with clean water issues by joining coalitions or attending events. Perhaps most impressively, she plans events that connect Minnesota state Senators, Representatives, experts, stakeholders, and citizens to discuss and educate about water quality issues in our communities.
With all of this going on in Cora’s career, I started to wonder what originally motivated her to work on environmental issues. Cora says that she attributes much of her current motivation to the ways she was influenced during her younger years. As a child, she was strongly affected by her parents and stepparents, who were all in “helping professions” like nursing and nonprofit work. Today, Cora plans to pursue a “helping profession” of her own by helping the environment: what she believes is the “most important challenge our generation faces.” Cora also remembers being politically active with her family from a young age, doing activities like going along with her parents to vote and volunteering for campaigns. In addition, she remembers a specific “aha” moment during her high school biology class. When a group project led her to pursue in-depth research about deforestation in tropical rainforests, Cora vividly recalls feeling “outraged” and “frustrated,” with an immediate desire take some sort of action on the problem. Although the clean water issues Cora currently works on in Minnesota may seem tenuously related to rainforest deforestation, this story shows how Cora’s passion for environmental issues translates into such effective action in her day-to-day work. Cora succinctly describes in her own words what drives her to make environmental change: “A sense of outrage, responsibility, and knowledge that what I’m doing is meaningful and necessary.”
Although Cora is very involved in her current work, she readily admits that she isn’t sure how she plans to work on environmental change in the future. Cora believes that clean water issues are very important, but she also prioritizes climate change as a top environmental issue. Cora is open-minded about the future and says that in ten years she could see herself “directing a nonprofit, being the communications director for an organization, or doing political advocacy.”
For undergraduates trying to discern which career path to pursue, Cora recommends volunteering as an excellent way to explore one’s interests and find out what kinds of roles are available in various organizations. Cora emphasizes that volunteering can be just as helpful as an official internship, and she attributes much of her own growth during her time at the University of Minnesota to volunteer experiences.
After talking with Cora about her work and her goals, I have a clearer picture of how a motivated young person can transition step-by-step into an effective leadership role. It’s clear that Cora is already making an important difference in our community, so who knows where her journey will take her next? We will just have to wait and see… or better yet, we can speed up the process by pitching in and working on environmental change along with her.
At the recent Sustainability Film Series, participants engaged with hunger and poverty in the United States with a thinking and doing evening on Thursday, March 5th, 6:30 PM at the Bell Museum.
A Place at the Table is an acclaimed documentary detailing the social and environmental injustices between our food system, communities, poverty, and legislative processes. The event also featured a discussion with special guest speaker Michael Chaney, Executive Director of Project Sweetie Pie in North Minneapolis. “I wouldn’t call myself a gardener,” he stated, “but a freedom fighter.” Discussion ranged from Farm Bill politics, to changing things from the ground up (literally with the local youth-based gardening project within North Minneapolis’ food desert), to equity and sustainability.
The audience also was able to share their thoughts in a creative way and pass them along to decision makers in an interactive activist-art project on hunger. Participants filled in cards in response to questions like “what is hunger, why does hunger exist, what can we do to prevent hunger, how can we address food insecurity” which they then contributed to a collective mobile, to make a powerful statement about hunger and food insecurity. Copies of the cards will be sent to decision makers who are passing (or not) legislation on food-related policies and you can see the mobile at the Institute on the Environment. And hey, at the food-themed event, there was free food with a purpose. Jenny Breen, head chef at Health Foods, Healthy Lifes, featured various black bean recipes, showing how to prepare food on a budget.
Fear not if you missed the grand time. The next film in the series, Watermark, a documentary that explores our relationship with water and how it shapes humanity, will be shown Thursday, April 2 at the Bell Museum at 6:30 PM.
Many thanks to the Institute on the Environment’s Undergrad Leaders who planned and organized the fabulous time and project sponsors.
Looking for an enjoyable environmental course to fill out your schedule? Check out this new offering.
This course will explore how contemporary literature, science, ethics, philosophy, journalism, and popular culture use stories to portray and interpret nature. This course will also feature an emphasis on the lived experience, civic motivation, and observational research that enrich the most effective nature writing. Either by working as service-learners or by designing your own independent action project, you will have the chance to engage with natural environments and action-oriented organizations that interest you. Over the course of the semester, you will devote around 24 hours to your chosen civic work option. For the service-learning option, you will gain first-hand knowledge of local initiatives by working at a local environmental organization or community group. You will be able to learn the stories of local activists in person, and put your own ethical commitments into play by working with an engaged community.
“Can we feed the world without destroying it?” is a Grand Challenge Curriculum (GCC) course where students examine the fundamental changes in our civilization, the global environment, and the global food system that are happening in the 21st century. Together, instructors and students will seek solutions to the twin challenges of achieving global food security and global environmental sustainability. Ultimately, we will seek answers to the question, “Can we feed the world without destroying it?”
While there isn’t a single “right” answer to this question, progress can still be made through collaboration and innovation using interdisciplinary approaches. To act on this challenge, this course moves beyond theories and asks students to analyze the problem and develop their own solutions.
Open to honors and non-honors students in all majors.
- Meets LE theme: Environment
- Open to all students
- Fulfills an honors experience
- Three Credits
Students tackle questions like:
- Can organic feed the world?
- Does the bioeconomy help or hinder?
- How can food waste be curbed?
- What role should GMOs have?
- How can education reach more people?
The complexities of the problem and the actors involved are interdisciplinary; all disciplines are needed to develop effective solutions.
The course format includes guest speakers and expert panels of leaders in local food systems, business, the NGO sector, and government agencies. Students learn through lectures and skills labs, and collaborate with interdisciplinary teams on practical solutions to food insecurity as a final project.
Questions? Contact Barrett Colombo at firstname.lastname@example.org
Environment America is seeking graduating seniors for fellowships with grassroots campaigns on climate change.
Environment America believes lack of political will is the greatest factor inhibiting solutions to climate change. It focuses on running grassroots campaigns to “bring people together to convince our leaders to stop pandering to big polluters and climate deniers and start getting behind the solutions.”
Deadline: Monday, March 30.
Learn more and apply at: jobs.