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Celebrating the Women in the SEAS Community

Originally published: 
March, 2017

Female SNREds everywhere contribute immense value to science and sustainability initiatives across the globe.  In honor of Women's History Month, we wanted to share the stories of several women in our community who are making a difference.  From facilitating climate change education for teachers to harnessing the power of music to empower Native American teens in Alaska, these alumnae are involved in groundbreaking and impactful work.

Beatriz Cañas (MS '15)

Project Manager of Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, School of Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan


Beatriz Cañas is the Program Manager for U-M’s Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, a two-year internship that provides research and professional development opportunities to underrepresented students interested in pursuing work in environmental fields.   Currently, the environmental workforce isn’t reflective of the people who are disproportionately affected by environmental injustices.  "As a person of color I am directly affected by inequity and discrimination, so I see the importance of working towards creating support systems for underrepresented students," says Cañas.  Because the U-M program is fairly new and Cañas was brought on at the start of the program, her ideas, including integrating the environmental education and environmental justice curricula, have played a critical role in shaping the program.

Pearl Zhu Zeng (MS '15)

Learning Platform and Web Manager for Michigan Sustainability Cases, School of Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan 


Pearl Zeng has been on the team for the Michigan Sustainability Cases ( initiative since the initial grant proposal was written - in fact, she designed a prototype for what the cases would look like, came up with the preliminary assessment plan, and helped shape the grant proposal.  The MSC team is redesigning pedagogy for sustainability education through the production of multimodal, experience-oriented teaching cases co-created by students, faculty, and practitioners. Completed cases are published through MSC's learning platform, where the public can access the cases for free.  "This is experience-oriented learning that is inclusive of different learners and encourages students' active participation in the learning process," comments Zeng.

Sidney Brown (MS/MPP '10)

Program Officer - Polio Eradication, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Islamabad, Pakistan 


The Gates Foundation is one of five partners constituting the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a public-private partnership seeking to eradicate polio worldwide.  Polio remains present in only three countries: Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.  Sidney Brown is part of the task team that guides the Pakistan monitoring and evaluation program, which partners with a third-party consultant to obtain data after every vaccination campaign.  “When you get to the very end of the eradication program, you’re dealing with the ultimate outliers, the most difficult-to-access populations,” says Brown.  “It’s a very unifying goal to say that we want to eradicate polio so it doesn’t affect any child anywhere ever again.”

Emily Reyna (MS/MBA '09)

Inclusion & Diversity Business Partner, Twitter
San Francisco, California


As the first Director of Diversity at the Environmental Defense Fund, Emily Reyna was responsible for implementing the organization’s first diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy, with tasks ranging from evaluating internal diversity and inclusion values to establishing metrics to track progress.  This role poised her to land a position on Twitter’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team, effective beginning in January 2017.  The technology sector has faced intense scrutiny for a marked lack of diversity, and leadership at many tech companies are starting to recognize the importance of an inclusive workforce.

Kerry Duggan (MS '06)

Principal, SustainabiliD LLC
Former Deputy Director for Policy under former Vice President Joe Biden
Washington, D.C.


Kerry Duggan directly advised former Vice President Joe Biden on all matters relating to clean energy technology, climate change and impacts on national security, resilience, and distressed communities, among numerous other topics.  Simultaneously, this mother of two served as the Deputy Director for the Detroit Federal Working Group, pioneering an innovative “one-government” approach that disrupted the outdated top-down approach to doing business by making the government a more effective partner with the mayor and community stakeholders. She feels a personal stake in the future of Detroit, with generations of a giant Irish-American family residing in the City.

Cynthia  Koenig (MS '06, MBA '11)

Founder and CEO, Wello
Mumbai, India


Cynthia Koenig is the founder of Wello, an award-winning social venture that co-creates disruptive innovations designed to provide better, more reliable access to basic needs, like water. There is an incredible need for Wello’s products: over 1 billion people worldwide lack reliable access to safe water.  Overwhelmingly, the task of water collection falls to women, who spend roughly 25% of their day collecting water in containers that can hold 44 pounds of water. Wello co-created the WaterWheel, an affordable 45-liter rolling plastic drum outfitted with a handle, with consumers in rural India.  Koenig estimates that WaterWheel users spend half as much time collecting water each day than they would otherwise.  “Given better, more reliable access to water, women have more time for other tasks [and] girls are more likely to attend school,” Koenig explains.

Nicole Rom (MS '04)

Co-Founder and Executive Director, Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy
Minneapolis, Minnesota


Nicole Rom is the co-founder and executive director of Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that has worked for the past decade to build broad-based public support for climate action, clean energy policies, and clean air protections. The organization, which strategically supports and engages youth leaders and educators – who Rom considers critical agents of change, was recognized by the White House in 2014-15 for advancing climate literacy and climate change education.  "We are unified in our resolve to dig in and strengthen our work to meet the current challenge [under the Trump administration], knowing that our country and our state’s forward momentum on climate change solutions is now under threat," Rom said.  Rom's tireless work earned her a position on Midwest Energy News's 2015 40 Under 40 list.  

Grace Manubay (MS '02)

Environmental Literacy Coordinator, District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education
Washington, D.C.


Grace Manubay brings together K-12 classrooms and environmental nonprofits to offer field-based STEM experiences for eager students and teachers. As the District of Columbia's first environmental literacy coordinator, Manubay expands classroom learning to include the local environment, which provides a rich and meaningful context for teaching D.C.’s educational standards.  "Exploring outdoor spaces or investigating local environmental issues should be an integral part of what it means to be a student," says Manubay.  Her Environmental Literacy Leadership Cadre supports a group of teachers from 16 schools who coordinate environmental activities at every grade level in their school, reaching approximately 5,600 students annually.  

Amanda Edmonds (BS '00, MS '05)

Mayor, City of Ypsilanti
Founder and Executive Director, Growing Hope 
Ypsilanti, Michigan


Amanda Edmonds serves as Mayor of Ypsilanti while concurrently working as the Executive Director of Growing Hope, a grassroots urban agriculture and healthy food access organization. Founded by Edmonds in 2003, this Ypsilanti-based nonprofit works to grow healthy people, healthy places, and healthy economies in order to improve equity and access across the food system.  All around Ypsilanti and through policy and consulting work statewide, the tangible change the nonprofit has made is visible in revitalized places, gardens, and markets. “We’re in the kind of work where there’s very physical, visible evidence of making things happen,” Edmonds comments.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha (BS '93, MPH '08)

Director, Pediatric Residency Program, Hurley Medical Center
Assistant Professor, Michigan State University
Flint, Michigan


Dr. Hanna-Attisha was responsible for sounding the alarm over dangerous amounts of lead in Flint's drinking water.  After researching her hospital’s records and discovering that the number of Flint children with elevated blood-lead levels had doubled and, in some areas, tripled since the city began drawing its water supply from the Flint River in 2014, she went public with her findings. “[We] had an ethical, moral, professional responsibility to alert our community about this crisis, this emergency,” she stated.

Diane MacEachern (BA ’74, MS ’77) 

Founder and CEO, Big Green Purse
Washington, D.C.


Diane MacEachern launched Big Green Purse, a web-based consulting company, on Earth Day 2007. Her book, Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World, followed in spring of 2008.  The message of the book, which led Glamour magazine to call MacEachern an “Ecohero” and garnered her “The Image of the Future Award” from the World Communications Forum, is simple but revolutionary. If women shift their spending to greener products and services, they’ll change what and how companies manufacture – and protect themselves and their families as well.  Why not title the book The Big Green Wallet?  “Eighty-five cents of every dollar is spent by women,” MacEachern explains. “I wanted to talk to the person who had the most clout!”

Belle Mickelson (MSC '72)

Founder and Director, Dancing with the Spirit
Cordova, Alaska


While teaching a class for the University of Alaska, Belle Mickelson learned of the growing epidemic of teen suicide, alcoholism, and drug abuse in Alaska's Native communities.  In 2006, Mickelson founded Dancing with the Spirit, a non-profit organization that holds week-long music camps for children in Alaska’s Native villages.  The program, which features local elders, has since grown to 34 villages and has reached more than 4,000 children.  Succeeding in music improves children's confidence to tackle other school subjects and make connections with adults - and Mickelson attests that, “By the end of the week, we’ve made such great friends with the kids that we can talk to them personally about drugs and alcohol and suicide."