Jillian Dy

Featured Fellow:

Jillian Dy

Eastern Regional Network (ERN ’18)

she/her/hers
Director of Supply Chain Engagement
FoodCorps

How did you originally become engaged in the environmental field? How did your pathway evolve and bring you to take part in an ELP Fellowship?

I’d spent almost a decade working odd jobs in the art world becoming increasingly uninspired by my career prospects. Then in 2012, without any formal training in business or agriculture, I started a small farm growing veggies, herbs, and greens for wholesale markets in Virginia. I benefited from readily available assets and safety nets - privileges that are not afforded to most beginning farmers. Living in remote, rural America, I was working outside every day, interacting with the natural world through my labor, livelihood, and recreation. I came to understand the immediate and important connection between my choices and their consequences. Harvesting in the rain meant soil compaction and poor drainage; planting oats in late summer meant a head start on spring weeds. To this day, this lesson continues to drive me, since the world we live in is ultimately a result of the choices individuals make. Farming eventually led me to working for a food hub where I was responsible for selling sustainably-raised, local foods to schools and hospitals. One of the cofounders was a Senior Fellow, and my manager nominated me.

What does being a “leader” mean to you personally in this work? What qualities of leadership do you think are most important in the environmental movement right now?

To me, being a leader means inspiring others through your words and actions - not because you want to impress people but because you’re always trying to do better. Someone who has the courage to explore their own biases, as well as the humility to admit they don’t have all the answers. Right now, we need leaders who have the courage to speak up and take action when they see an injustice, and that starts with paying attention to the world around you and learning about the root causes to its problems. Resilience and the ability to find joy in small things can also help to keep you hopeful.

What did you find most meaningful about your ELP Fellowship?

It was the first time I’d been through an intentional experience that allowed (I think) everyone in my cohort to let their guards down so we could do some real personal work together. It was an incredibly powerful experience that I’ve sought to recreate outside of ELP. It turns out, building deep trust takes time and is not easy to do! I’m an introvert and found it to be some kind of magic that this group of strangers could be transformed during our time together, learning and growing as a collective.

In what ways do you stay connected to this community?

Just this past weekend I was hiking with a Senior Fellow from my cohort (Hi Vicki!) on the nature preserve where another Senior Fellow resides (Hi Dan!). I’m grateful to have regular calls with my pod, and know that they are there for me if I need them. During the shelter in place orders, I played virtual Scattergories with folks from my cohort. It’s been almost two years since our graduation but it’s nice to know the love is still there. I also utilize the broader network when looking for professional guidance or resources.

 


Cindy NguyenFeatured Fellow:

Cindy Nguyen

RAY Diversity Fellow ‘18

she/her/hers
Coordinator, Cities Connecting Children to Nature
Houston Mayor's Office of Education

How did you originally become engaged in the environmental field? How did your pathway evolve and bring you to take part in the RAY Diversity Fellowship?

I have always felt drawn to nature and wildlife ever since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until college when I became engaged. That’s when I got involved in volunteer work focused on environmental advocacy and conservation. For the first time ever, I got to meet conservationists, park rangers, and environmental justice workers in the field (and visit a national park!). I had never seriously seen myself in this field despite my passion for it, so the chance to do volunteer work alongside them compelled me to see that it was a possible career for me. 

I eventually led a trip in my junior year focused on the Human Right to Water, and I think that’s where my sense of environmental leadership really kicked in. Through that trip I learned about inequities in access to nature. I became motivated to pursue work that would allow me to advocate for frontline communities that faced environmental injustices. When I found out about the RAY Fellowship, I immediately applied. I knew that representation of people of color in this field was lacking, and I wanted to help change this. 

What does being a “leader” mean to you personally in this work? What qualities of leadership do you think are most important in the environmental movement right now?

I met many amazing leaders throughout my time as a Fellow and want to highlight women of color in conservation, such as Dr. Dorceta Taylor, among many others. Her tireless advocacy for diverse and inclusive representation in this space, requiring years of data and research, is what sparked many organizations to finally do something and created opportunities such as RAY. Being a leader means to be brave to speak your truth, especially if your thoughts are not heard about or readily accepted in mainstream society.

My RAY cohort peers, all women of color, showed me the power of our diversity in experiences and the value in letting our authentic voices show up. The fact that we decided to pursue conversation while knowing our experiences are not represented or addressed, and that we’d have to navigate uncharted territory, is also leadership. We share resources, best practices, and bring along others into the conversation when we can. Being a leader means however far you go up, you make sure to pull up others along with you. 

What did you find most meaningful about the RAY Diversity Fellowship?

The highlight of this fellowship was the time and space I spent evaluating my personal relationship to the environment in a deeper way. I began to embrace my identity as a Vietnamese American, woman, and artist as significant in my relationship to the environment. The RAY community often prompted me to reflect on the physical and emotional bonds I have formed to both my hometown and the lands of my ancestors. It led me to think about how my parents planted new roots to live in America and how that parallels my attempts to reconnect to the land they came from. This allowed me to explore the ways in which my cultural upbringing and perceptions of nature sustain my motivation to create a more healthy, beautiful, and just world.

In what ways do you stay connected to this community?

After completing the fellowship, I am grateful to still be in touch with my peers and mentors via annual Zoom calls, monthly check-ins, and invitations to work together on new projects. We send each other life updates, job opportunities, handwritten letters, music and book recommendations, and congratulations to each of our wins. We continue to rave about each other along our own journeys. I always find validation, solace, celebration, and wisdom from the RAY community. 

What else should the world know about you?

I am inspired endlessly by artists that create work around environmental issues and social justice. Their work helps me to envision a world that embraces diversity and deeper connections to people and the planet. I invite you to check out the work of artists such as Jooyoung Choi, Lina Dib, Natalie Jermijenko, Joshua Luna, Lina Iris Viktor, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen!

 


Leila Al-Hemali AyadFeatured Fellow:

Leila Al-Hemali Ayad  

Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program (DDDCSP) Alumni Network

[email protected] 2016 Cohort
Outdoor Educator & Field Technician

How did you originally become engaged in the environmental field? How did your pathway evolve and bring you to take part in the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program/Alumni Network (DDCSP)?

I am someone who has always had access to clean and safe spaces outdoors. I was raised on a small sheep farm in South Florida that produces Halal meat for our community. Each summer my parents would pack my three siblings and I into our van then drive to Tennessee to camp for a week in the Smoky Mountains. I loved being outside, where I could interact with the world around me with curiosity and creativity. When I was in High School, a teacher nominated me for a scholarship to attend a social justice conference, called PeaceJam. This organization taught me how to identify problems in my community and empowered me to think of solutions. I was learning about this during the same time as when Florida was experiencing prolonged hurricane seasons and intense red tide algal blooms that led to massive fish kills. I really just remember wanting to dedicate my career to benefitting the environment as a spark of connection. I learned that many of earth’s systems were in peril and became empowered to be a change-maker at the same time. When I was in college, DDCSP showed me I could integrate environmental work with other social justice movements. It made me realize that restoring balance with the environment is at the core of dismantling global systems of oppression.  

What does being a “leader” mean to you personally in this work? What qualities of leadership do you think are most important in the environmental movement right now?

I think about leadership a lot. In Outdoor Education, a lot of the traditional curriculum is around building leaders. It’s important for us to ask what aspects of that is still relevant when thinking about the changing demographic of youth today. Many of the qualities associated with leadership are qualities traditionally attributed to white men. As a leader, I do not attempt to emulate those qualities. Instead, I attempt to redefine what it means to be a leader. To me, a leader is not someone who holds the power. A leader is someone who empowers other people.

In the environmental field, this type of leadership is key. The systematic change within our economic/social/political structures that needs to happen to restore balance between humans and our environment is a movement that must start with the people. I am doing this in a small way by helping spread different ways to take action in leadership.

What did you find most meaningful about the DDCSP Alumni Network?

The DDCSP Alumni Network is a powerful group of people. Working to create an intersectional conservation movement is difficult in many ways. However, the Alumni Network has given me a community that I know shares this vision and this increases my personal resilience. I have benefitted the most from having a network of supportive professionals that I can test new ideas and skills with. I trust the people who are in the program to give me honest feedback that aligns with my personal values. I am constantly inspired by the small slice of the Alumni Network I stay in close contact with. As more time passes from our years as Scholars, it gives me so much energy to keep working hard as I see each of us find our niche within this movement.  

In what ways do you stay connected to this community?

I stay connected to the DDCSP Alumni community mostly on digital platforms. I follow the Alumni instagram page for daily connection and apply to be a part of teams that are working to build the network when I can. I was reconnected with the network after being largely disengaged for 2 years. I wanted to help plan the Homecoming gathering that happened on Bainbridge Island in Spring 2019. It was such a breath of fresh air to be working with the DDCSP Alumni community again because I really had a shared vision with the people I was working with. As an outdoors person, I previously shied away from virtual spaces because dominant culture of the outdoors has an aversion to technology. However, planning the Homecoming with a remote team went so smoothly I had to change my prejudice against working online. It made me realize I can be connected to this powerful group of people even if I’m not in the same physical space as them. 

What else should the world know about you?

I’ve spent most of my 20’s so far unpacking and unlearning the capitalist mentality.  The mainstream conservation movement is unintentionally exclusive -- it champions people choosing the more “sustainable”, usually more expensive option over the more accessible one. In this way, environmentalism has become elitist and a movement centered on an exploitative, capitalist system. What is most difficult about this for me, is that it encourages me to identify as a “consumer” and implies that my power in this movement comes from my consumption. A few years ago, I needed to try on a different identity. I decided I needed to produce something. I started to learn how to work with clay to create functional ceramic pieces. This has been my most impactful, individual act against the capitalist system.  I encourage more people to try to produce something for their community -- a small garden, a poetry zine, a weekly gathering -- to practice what it means to produce instead of consume.