M’Lis Bartlett (MLA ’08)
Lecturer, U-M School for Environment and Sustainability
Ann Arbor, Michigan
What did it mean to you to be named a Doris Duke Conservation Fellow? What were some of the activities and opportunities that held the greatest impact for you?
The support to explore my interests in community-based design through an internship with GrowNYC was instrumental to the pursuit of my doctorate and is key to my current teaching work. I would not have been able to afford that learning experience without the support of the Doris Duke Fellowship. In that position, I learned about the technical and social challenges related to urban rainwater harvesting. Working hand in hand with GrowNYC's educators and garden staff, I saw the importance of participatory design in creating a sense of ownership and sustainability for urban gardens. This led to doctoral work in which I collaborated with young people in Detroit and Flint to design and build new green spaces at public schools. I am currently teaching a master’s project course on food systems at SEAS. I have found myself referencing this summer experience multiple times discussing contaminate mitigation in rainwater harvesting systems and, likewise, sharing lessons learned regarding community engagement.
What kind of changes have you observed in land conservation in the U.S. over the course of your career?
I am quite hopeful about the impacts of social justice movements in the field of conservation broadly and specifically on land conservation. My work has tended to be on the front-end environmental education pipeline—or “vine” as we prefer to say—of helping young professionals (undergrads/grads) enter the field of conservation. We are seeing a strong and growing movement being led by communities of color that focus on providing access (economic, emotional, social) to outdoor spaces. And a part of this movement is the diversification of those working in the conservation field. We clearly have a long way to go but, if we can listen, Indigenous, Black and Brown leaders are promoting visionary practices around land reparations, land back and other justice work as related to land conservation, energy justice, climate change and other environmental issues that are key for a just and equitable environment for all.
Note: Prior to 2017, the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) was known as the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE). References to “SNRE” have been updated to “SEAS” to reflect the name change.