SEAS launches new scholarships to provide environmental justice opportunities to students, funding to community organizations
The University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) announced a new $1 million award to catalyze the field of climate justice in the Midwest. Led by the Tishman Center for Social Justice and the Environment at SEAS, these funds will support the development of students as the next generation of environmental justice leaders and place them within environmental justice (EJ) organizations, while providing full-ride scholarships and summer internship grants. These scholarships will ensure that some of the most talented students can advance their careers in the justice space, especially potential leaders coming from rural or urban communities that have had to navigate discrimination and disadvantage.
The grant, sponsored by Builders Initiative, will resource Master of Science (MS) students studying within the environmental justice specialization at SEAS to be able to fully leverage the academic and professional opportunities on campus, and remove financial barriers to student success in the pursuit of EJ careers in the Midwest. The goal is to help students quickly launch into EJ careers, filling the talent gap in the Midwest EJ space and catalyzing new EJ leaders.
The new program creates a novel pathway toward university partnerships with external EJ organizations and their leaders. Oftentimes, community-based professionals are not able to engage with universities because few university programs provide resources for their participation. This new program aims to address that by providing those EJ organizations hosting internships with funding to work with students as they enhance their professional skills. It’s designed to foster long-term relationships between community-serving organizations and students while helping organizations build capacity so they can lead innovative solutions to energy, climate change, agriculture and biodiversity. The organizations involved work on the vanguard of climate justice policy, community planning and grassroots organizing.
More specifically, the award will provide:
- Funding for three full-time graduate student scholarships for three semesters as they build leadership skills within EJ organizations. It will also provide summer stipends for housing, research and other benefits.
- Funding for the development of the Tishman Center’s educational program at SEAS.
- Two years of funding for three external EJ partner organizations in the Midwest, selected based on their grassroots and local community-building work. These funds will support under-resourced organizations that seek to build a robust approach to addressing climate change with equity and justice in partnership with the Tishman Center.
- Some Tishman Center salary funding to support staff who are focused on student development, building trust through ongoing advising on academic scholarship, career and field experience.
- The award also funded four additional student scholarships in 2022.
Three students will be awarded the scholarship in 2023, guided by SEAS Professor Kyle Whyte—who serves as the faculty director of the Tishman Center—along with the mentorship of the center’s inaugural director, Michelle Martinez (MS ’08). The funding contributes, in part, to the formation of the new Climate Justice Movement Cohort, a 10-person team of student fellows who will conduct environmental justice outreach, support programming, and engage with external EJ stakeholder groups and organizations.
“There are brilliant minds, and an enormous legacy, here at SEAS,” said Martinez. “I am glad to lift up students, along with the lessons from the EJ field. Connecting and growing the field in this critical time is vital—and centering justice is the only pathway to ensure our communities can survive ongoing climate disruption. The skills, knowledge, and resources we collectively house need to be resourced, and this is a great step.”
The SEAS EJ master’s program is the first graduate program of its kind in higher education, founded by leaders like SEAS Professor Emeritus Bunyan Bryant in 1992, and now led by Professor Whyte. The program continues to innovate its curriculum and has a diverse community of about 60 graduate students who take courses focused on Midwest, national and global environmental and climate justice.
The Tishman Center at SEAS was founded in 2021 to advance EJ leadership. Through the new Center, Martinez and Whyte are developing an architecture to allow students and organizations to build relationships through informal and formal interactions and collaborations.
Builders Initiative is the philanthropic team of Builders Vision. Builders Initiative uses grantmaking and impact investing to stand behind those on the frontlines to build a more humane and healthy planet. To learn more, visit buildersinitiative.org.