Thanks to our summer 2021 Environmental Stewardship Institute assistants

by Laura Mann Hill

Naomi Nickel (left) and Justine Wulff (right) helped lead our Environmental Stewardship Institute program this summer.

It takes a lot of planning to hold the Environmental Stewardship Institute (ESI), FMR's summer program that fosters a diverse next generation of environmental leaders through an interdisciplinary exploration of the field. This year, we're especially grateful to two ESI alumni — Justine Wulff and Naomi Nickel — who served as ESI assistants supporting the 2021 summer cohort.

Justine, a 2020 fellow, and Naomi, a 2019 fellow and 2020 assistant, have watched the program evolve and have contributed their own ideas. In this interview, they share insights on their experience as environmental leaders in the program and offer us a peek into what their future holds.

Tell us about yourselves!

Justine: I'm Justine Wulff from Saint Paul. I went to Como Park Senior High, and I worked with FMR because I support the work that the organization does, and I had an interest in assisting the ESI program.

Naomi: I'm Naomi Nickel. I'm from Roseville and I went to Roseville Area High School. I was interested in working for FMR because it sounded like a great program, and I continued working at FMR because I had a great time and got a lot of support from the staff.

How do you feel connected to water and the Mississippi River?

Justine: I live in the Como Park area and will visit the Mississippi River for runs/bike rides. I'm appreciative of the ability to access the river and enjoy nature.

Naomi: I have grown up spending a lot of time biking or walking near, and even skiing on the local ponds and lakes that surround my neighborhood. Learning that all of those bodies of water are part of the Mississippi watershed has made me more aware that all of our actions are connected and important.

How was it different being an ESI assistant versus a fellow, and what was your favorite new element of the program this year?

Justine: Being an assistant showed more of the outreach aspect of the ESI program and how much planning goes into a summer program. My favorite new element of the program this year was the increase in field trips and career research offered.

Naomi: The biggest difference was having input into how the program would go, and facilitating some activities, which was pretty exciting! My favorite new element was definitely the mentors. They provided a lot of insight into different environmental careers and were a great resource for the fellows' projects.

How has the Environmental Stewardship Institute impacted you?

Justine: I'm more socially aware of intersectionality between social justice issues and the environment, and I have a clearer idea of a future job that involves working in the environmental field.

Naomi: I have learned that there is a lot of variety in the environmental field, which is really reassuring because I don't know exactly what I want to do yet. ESI connected me with many people in the field and taught me the importance of networking. I have also learned a ton about environmental justice issues and how connected people and the environment are.

What's next for you?

Justine: I'm planning to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison for environmental engineering with a possible certificate in sustainability. I hope to work in hydrology or in environmental waste clean-up.

Naomi: I will be attending the University of Minnesota Twin Cities this fall, and I will be majoring in environmental science. I also hope to double major, but I am not sure in what yet! I don't have a specific career plan, but I hope to work in the science field while utilizing my writing skills.

ESI is expanding to offer a youth council this fall and hopes to expand our program next summer. Why should others get involved with ESI?

Justine: ESI offers the unique opportunity to connect with other high school students and to get hands-on experience in a multitude of careers within the environmental field. Additionally, the program has immense support from staff and mentors.

Naomi: ESI teaches fellows about so many aspects of the environment and the environmental field, from collecting data to social justice. It provides many opportunities to pursue topics you're interested in, and there is a ton of support from the staff and mentors. The field trips are also varied and fun!

Join us

FMR's summer Environmental Stewardship Insitute is part of our larger Stewardship and Education program. Check out our other opportunities for youth and for all ages to get involved with FMR.